Media mis-information

This is an excerpt from a popular health website,

A Cholesterol-Busting Vitamin?
Did you know that niacin, one of the B vitamins, is also a potent cholesterol fighter? Find out how niacin can help reduce cholesterol…

Niacin is safe — except in people with chronic liver disease or certain other conditions, including diabetes and peptic ulcer. It is also inexpensive. However, it has numerous side effects. It can cause rashes and aggravate gout, diabetes, or peptic ulcers. Early in therapy, it can cause facial flushing for several minutes soon after a dose, although this response often stops after about two weeks of therapy and can be reduced by taking aspirin or ibuprofen half an hour before taking the niacin. A sustained-release preparation of niacin (Niaspan) appears to have fewer side effects, but may cause more liver function abnormalities, especially when combined with a statin.

Many people begin treatment at low doses (250 mg twice a day, for example) and, over six weeks or so, gradually build up to an amount that lowers lipid levels, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 mg split between two doses during the day. This gradual approach may help build tolerance to side effects such as facial flushing. Although niacin is available over the counter, you should not use it in quantities sufficient to lower cholesterol without a physician’s supervision. It is important to test liver function and levels of blood sugar and uric acid before beginning niacin therapy and during the course of treatment.

(Bold emphasis mine.)


After an enticing headline, the article goes on to scare the pants off you. It also sounds like accurate information, delivered in an unbiased way, cold and straight.

If we were to use niacin this way, it would indeed be intolerable for most. Do not follow the above nonsensical advice. But that may have been the intention from the start.

Very telling are the fact that, both above and below the article were colorful advertisements for Lipitor, complete with Dr. Robert Jarvik’s (inventor of an implantable mechanical heart) soothing, professorial image.

Did they want to bait us with promising information about cholesterol and niacin, only to throw water on our fire and steer us towards something else?

That would be typical drug company marketing.

All in all, I’m grateful for the attention the media provides for health issues. Perhaps many people wouldn’t even be aware of niacin and other healthy strategies if some website, newspaper, or magazine article hadn’t talked about it.

But I do worry about bias. Was this an unbiased report? Or was it more like much of the physician-directed mail I receive, cleverly concealed propaganda from the drug manufacturers? Who wrote it? No author is listed. Could it have been ghost written by someone in the drug company itself, or an arm of the drug company? That’s a very common practice for the literature physicians receive, glossy, high-class materials paid for by drug companies, written by drug company-owned companies, but no company logo or name listed.

My point: Be skeptical of what the media tells us. There’s usually a good deal of truth in the reporting, but there’s also often just enough mis-information or slanting of content to make you behave or believe a certain way. “If niacin is this dangerous, maybe I really should take the Lipitor.”

Comments (2) -

  • Bearcub

    7/1/2007 2:34:00 PM |

    My cardiologisdt has recommended that I take Niaspan instead of using Lipitor.. can you tell me more about that ??

  • Dr. Davis

    7/1/2007 5:13:00 PM |

    Big issue. Please refer to the website that this Blog supplements,