This story gave readers the essential information about the study’s design, its limitations and its implications for patients. It would have been even better had it included information about costs, alternatives, and availability. The biggest omission, though, is the lack of a clear quantification of what the lead calls a “slightly lower risk” of developing Parkinson’s among statin users.
When we saw the headline, we were worried that we were about to read yet another story extolling the potential benefits of statins. Headline writers seem to love to ask the question “Can statins prevent (fill in the blank)? We have seen it with blood clots, Alzheimer’s and cancer, just to name a few. But HealthDay took a different tack. In the subhead, it answers the question, “It’s too early to say, but study suggests younger users may gain some benefit.” Then it explains to readers from the very first sentence that the evidence for a benefit against Parkinson’s is weak.
There is no discussion of costs in the story. At least a mention of the typical price for a statin would have been nice, given that they are lifelong drugs that add up to a considerable amount over time.
The story nicely summarizes what researchers did in the study, but it does not provide any numbers for the benefits found in the study. This is unfortunate because it would have given readers a better sense of what “slightly lower risk” meant in the lead.
We give the story credit for noting the potential side effects of statins up high. And later it reported:
There was a concern that statins could be harmful as they might lower the level of coenzyme Q10 in the blood. Co-Q10, an antioxidant, is thought to have benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease.
But we wish the story had gone the extra step of actually quantifying the harms from this study or other studies. And it could have cited the recent FDA update on the risks associated with statins.
In the lead, the story takes a cautious note, saying that those taking statins “may have a slightly lower risk” of Parkinson’s, and, in the third sentence, it says “the risk reduction was modest and may have been due to chance”. The story goes on to say, “The study had some limitations, the authors acknowledged. For example, only about 70 percent of people who were taking drugs to lower cholesterol were actually on statins at the study’s start.” This is all important context for readers and underscores what seems to be the main point of this study, that there is more research needed before people start taking statins for Parkinson’s.
There was no disease mongering in the story. Instead, it explains how little we know about Parkinson’s or potential treatments, such as statins. It says, “Nearly one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder, and no one knows what causes it. The researchers can’t say exactly how — or even if — statins reduce the risk of Parkinson’s. It’s thought these drugs may have potent anti-inflammatory effects, which could protect the brain.”
The story quotes two independent experts, providing good balance for the story.
At the moment there are no alternative strategies to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Dr. Isaacson’s comment, “Right now we don’t have any good evidence that there is anything we can do to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but research is ongoing,” says it all.
One could argue that statins are among the most popular drugs and, therefore, their availability is widely known. But this story should have at least mentioned the specific statin being studied and the fact that they are only available by prescription.
There were no claims of novelty made here.
The story does not rely on a press release.