Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Reporters Just Make You Wonder (or Just Sigh)

Well, I said in my last post that I wanted to see the article on cholesterol and women, and now I’ve been able to. Well, sort of: I haven’t been able to access the article itself, but I have been able to read the abstract. Having done so, I’m left with one conclusion, one that I’ve expressed before: I continue to be appalled at how the public press picks up on research.

Here is the citation: Matthews, Karen A., Crawford, Sybil L., Chae, Claudia U., Everson-Rose, Susan A., Sowers, Mary Fran, Sternfeld, Barbara, Sutton-Tyrrell, Kim: “Are Changes in Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Midlife Women Due to Chronological Aging or to the Menopausal Transition?” J Am Coll Cardiol 2009 54: 2366-2373 (Abstract here). The research actually was part of a study on women’s health. This is the critical paragraph of the abstract:

Methods: SWAN (Study of Women's Health Across the Nation) is a prospective study of the menopausal transition in 3,302 minority (African American, Hispanic, Japanese, or Chinese) and Caucasian women. After 10 annual examinations, 1,054 women had achieved an FMP [final menstrual period] not due to surgery and without hormone therapy use before FMP. Measured CHD [coronary heart disease] risk factors included lipids and lipoproteins, glucose, insulin, blood pressure, fibrinogen, and C-reactive protein. We assessed which of 2 models provided a better fit with the observed risk factor changes over time in relation to the FMP: a linear model, consistent with chronological aging, or a piecewise linear model, consistent with ovarian aging. (emphasis mine)
So, the point of the study was to determine which would be more predictive, and therefore more useful: whether the woman had entered menopause, or her age. Note that all the women who had experienced menopause had done so “not due to surgery;” nor had they delayed the experience of menopause with hormone therapy. So, these were women who experienced menopause specifically in their natural course.

In fact they determined that for several measures of cholesterol, menopause was more predictive than age, while for other risk factors age was more predictive. However, in neither case was there any implication that menopause wasn’t “natural;” only that in the natural course of things different women experienced it at different ages.

So, the bizarreness of the article (picked up apparently uncritically by was a misreading of the journalists instead of a misstatement by the scientists. That’s not a surprise to me, but it highlights the continuing issue: good research gets misreported in the public press in a way that doesn’t serve the public.


Unknown said...

Cholesterol rises in women during menopause usually because of a thyroid imbalance. Please see

Marshall Scott said...

YODA: An interesting comment on Michelle Duggar; but I'm not exactly sure how it's pertinent. Clearly Michelle Duggar has not experienced menopause. And while I would also disagree with the Duggars on family size, birth control, and God's will for us, I recognize that they are acting literally in good faith.

Still, my concern is with reporters writing thoughtlessly about health issues; and I can only imagine that somone suggesting that menopause was something other than natural (and I'm not talking here either about the results of surgery or about appropriate ways of treating related discomforts) simply wasn't thinking.