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Hold off on those extra vitamins


3 Star

Hold off on those extra vitamins

Our Review Summary

This was a 138-word story on a recent study that found that more than one multivitamin a day was correlated with increased risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer.  However the story fell short of the mark of informing readers because it failed to provide sufficient context to understand what the absolute increase in risk was.  See our primer on absolute vs. relative risk. 

Instead of explaining that taking additional beta carotene and zinc supplements increased this risk even more, the story could have used that space to provide numbers to help men understand the frequency with which advanced prostate cancer occurs and how common it is that prostate cancer never advances or becomes fatal.  Saying that risk was increased 32% or "nearly doubled" just isn’t helpful if readers aren’t given the baseline risk.  32% of what?  Nearly double what? 

We will continue to point out the severe limitations of such short pieces on medical science.  

Meantime, a short 263-word story by USA Today on the same study got a five-star score – so it is possible to be brief and meet most of our criteria. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The story didn’t discuss the costs of multivitamins, but this is common knowledge.

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


The story mentioned that the study "provided strong evidence that taking just one multivitamin a day did not cause harm.", which could be considered a benefit of treatment.

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


The harms of treatment, i.e. increased risk of advanced prostate cancer and fatal prostate cancer were mentioned.  However, the source article for this story included estimates of the frequency with which these normally occur, so the story could have included this information and provided a more informative picture.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story provided evidence of increased risk only in relative terms, not absolute.  See our primer on this issue. Without knowing how common advanced or fatal prostate cancer are, it is not possible to understand what 32% and 50% increases represent. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story did not engage in disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only source quoted in this story was the senior author of the paper reported on.  It would have been helpful to have an independent source comment on the results presented.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The treatment options discussed are taking one multivitamin a day (which was not found to increase advanced prostate cancer risk) and  taking more than one multivitamin a day, which was found to be correlated with increased risk.

The story didn’t provide information about other options for decreasing prostate cancer risk, or other factors that increase prostate cancer risk.  


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

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The story didn’t discuss availability of multivitamins but this is common knowledge. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention whether the observation that excessive vitamin consumption is associated with increased prostate cancer risk was new or not.

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.  Only one source is quoted. 

Total Score: 3 of 7 Satisfactory


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