Is health news helpful or just hype?
Knowing the basics of scientific research and statistics can help you understand what medical studies really say
In the late 1990s, word that selenium and vitamin E might lower the risk of prostate cancer was reported by newspapers and magazines, broadcast on television and radio, and announced on Web sites. Eager to prevent the disease — and convinced that vitamins and minerals couldn't be harmful — men around the world began taking the supplements.
But at the end of October 2008, the National Cancer Institute stopped a study, dubbed SELECT, which was designed to test whether selenium and vitamin E, alone or in combination, really could lower prostate cancer risk. The trial was slated to run until 2011, but it came to a halt when researchers grew concerned that the supplements were actually causing more harm than good. (For details on SELECT, see Volume 3, Number 1, of Perspectives.)