Editorial: Study the Study

By Len Monheit

This week, the JAMA study “Effect of Hypericum perforatum (St John's Wort) in Major Depressive Disorder” was released. Many in the industry either have or will comment on the study itself, and the fact that sertraline, an anti-depression drug, failed the study, as well as that Major Depressive Disorder is an inappropriate condition for St. John’s Wort treatment.

To see this level of communication on the part of our industry is a good sign. In fact, even prior to journal publication, the American Botanical Council, CRN and NNFA all issued releases preparing our industry and the media for the study result and questioning its validity as a reportable scientific study. As the story broke, some mainstream media referred to the industry groups which challenged the study, and perhaps the study impact was diminished a bit.

As far as our industry is concerned, these study results overshadowed promising studies regarding the effect of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids and other positive developments in some of our market segments. So where is the silver lining in all this?

First of all, the steps taken by the industry associations, visibly, and in the public eye, ahead of journal publication, were a start to a more proactive media management process. Secondly, at least three separate organizations issued releases, and thirdly, the level of intra-industry communication was excellent. On the flip side, we continue to suffer from a fragmented approach with no clear industry spokesperson or group and it’s difficult to create a sensational story that will get mainstream media attention by challenging a JAMA study.

At this point, I’m beginning to understand some of the frustration felt by some of those with years and years of industry experience to draw from. But I’ve got a few questions, things that I’d like to understand better, so please help me to understand:

How does a study get funded by NIH as part of a program on Complementary Medicine to study a non-recommended treatment, especially as a pilot project?

How does a study that so obviously fails by any scientific criteria first of all get approved by a top level scientific journal, and then on top of that, obtain media coverage disguising its inconclusive results?

How, despite pre-emptive attempts, did the study title make it to mainstream media? They must be doing something well from a media management and public relations standpoint.

And were there additional steps that could have been taken to change either the study focus or the media dynamic?

For many of these questions, it appears we’ll never know the answers, but the news of this week will have impact on our industry credibility, and possibly sales of some companies.

I began today by saying that there has been much commentary in the industry over the past week regarding the study, including:

American Botanical Council release
Article by Hyla Cass
Check out the letter to editor.

We welcome additional comments, documents and feedback on these and other issues.

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