Scary Monsters

Terrifying Headlines

Washington Post Antioxidant HeadlineDo we really need terrifying headlines about perfectly good food? Definitely not, but this week, the Washington Post paired a lovely picture of blueberries with this headline:

The latest study about antioxidants is terrifying
Scientists think they may boost cancer cells to spread faster

C’mon. It’s bad enough that health reporters have been hyping antioxidants for decades. Can’t they just let food be food and rat studies be rat studies? Here’s a sampling of past headlines from the Washington Post:

Antioxidant-rich foods may thwart heart attacks in women
A Honey of a source of antioxidants
Antioxidant-rich diet may protect against eye disease
Antioxidants found in some berries may help protect against heart attack
Green Tea Antioxidant May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s

Terrifying hype is not the antidote for miracle cure hype. The study that prompted the Post’s awful headline is a mouse study about cellular mechanisms for cancer, not food. Blueberries had nothing to do with the study. It’s cancer research that provides a lead for cancer treatment. It’s not nutrition research.

Food is food. We eat it because it’s good. Antioxidants are chemicals. We don’t need to be eating them or reading half-baked headlines about them.

Click here to read the Post’s story, click here to read the study in Nature, and here to read a companion commentary.

Scary Monsters, photograph © Stefano Corso / flickr

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October 25, 2015

2 Responses to “Terrifying Headlines”

  1. October 25, 2015 at 9:47 am, Rosa Aspalter said:

    Oj yes, this is the way, scientific information is distorted by journalists.

    The titel of the study is: “Oxidative stress inhibits distant metastasis by human melanoma cells”. So, oxidative stress is surely involved in cell dysfunction, dna-degradation and cancer developement. No wonder that oxidative stress is also interferring with cell growth and spreading – also in metastasis. So we have to look very carefully at what the study shows! The abstract says:
    “Successfully metastasizing melanomas underwent reversible metabolic changes during metastasis that increased their capacity to withstand oxidative stress” – So at a first glance, it should have been visible to the journalist, that it was not the antioxidans but tumor cell adaption who was responsible for the outcome!

    • October 25, 2015 at 10:17 am, Ted said:

      Well said, Rosa. Thank you!