Tania Bubela of the University of Alberta, Canada, says that it is often not possible for the layman to evaluate the credibility of the explained research since elements needed for complete comprehension can be missing.
Bubela and her colleagues compared the coverage received by pharmaceutical and herbal remedy trials, and studied 201 pharmaceutical and 352 herbal remedy newspaper articles.
Observing the 48 pharmaceutical and 57 herbal remedy clinical trials that the stories referred to, the researchers that the stories under-reported risk and lacked any disclosure of trial funding or scientists' conflicts of interest.
Bubela said: "There were significant errors of omission of basic information such as dose, sample size and methods for randomised clinical trials. In addition, there is an under-reporting of risks, especially in the context of herbal remedies".
The study further revealed that the media was extremely dependent on narratives from satisfied patients, researchers, clinicians and patient groups, and did not unveil these people's financial ties to industry and conflicts of interest.
The study has been reported in the open access journal BMC Medicine.