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Study: Fatty acids can help ease PMS symptoms

Rating

3 Star

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Study: Fatty acids can help ease PMS symptoms

Our Review Summary

The story didn’t even report which symptoms improved, or even a list of what was being measured. There are so many symptoms associated with PMS — ranging from physical to behavioral — that it’s important to know which symptoms they are talking about. Studies of PMS are notorious for showing a strong placebo effect, but we can’t tell whether taking the supplement adds much benefit.

There was also no discussion of cost and no independent expert perspective.

 

Why This Matters

Consumers spend millions of dollars on supplements, and these supplements are not well regulated. Any story about benefits runs the risk of sending people to their wallets, and they should be particularly cautious.

Pre-menstrual syndrome, which is the butt of many jokes, is a severe problem for a small minority of women and can cause cyclic symptoms: bloating, fatigue, mood swings and headache. While only a minority has severe symptoms, many women have some of these.

Journalists have an additional responsibility to provide context and caution when they report on claims of benefit from an unregulated substance for a huge population.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs of the supplements.  As we’ve reported, about 70% of the stories we reviewed don’t discuss costs.  It’s a bad trend, easily corrected, and takes only another few words in a story.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t tell us which symptoms improved, or even a list of what was being measured. There are so many symptoms associated with PMS — ranging from physical to behavioral — that it’s important to know which symptoms they are talking about. Studies of PMS are notorious for showing a strong placebo effect, but we can’t tell whether taking the supplement adds much benefit.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story mentions there were few side effects and mostly “mild.” But what were they?  And what does “mild” mean?  After all, PMS has a range of symptoms as well.  So did this story really help women think about the tradeoffs?  Nonetheless, since the story at least mentioned harms, we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – barely.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The writer didn’t evaluate the quality of the evidence and didn’t include any independent expert voice doing so either.  Single source science stories aren’t healthy. It’s more like stenography than journalism.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not exaggerate symptoms of PMS.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

As stated above, this story needed some independent expert comment.  There were also no statements made about conflicts of interest. Since the market for PMS is so big, it would have been helpful to know if these scientists had any vested interest in the results.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story only gave half of the picture of alternative approaches; it mentions other supplements that have been studied for PMS, but fails to note that there are also prescription medications for PMS such as SSRIs.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story described the availability of essential fatty acids in diet and in supplement form.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The idea of using supplements for PMS is not new, and the authors mention past research on the same topic.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

The story shows no sign of original reporting and may have relied largely on a release. But since we didn’t find a news release, we’ll rule this Not Applicable.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory

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