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Calling avocado a miracle food wasn’t enough; now a cancer buster?

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The following is a guest blog post by Alan Cassels.


With a large run on “avocados are good for you” news stories, including one we analyzed here at HealthNewsReview, one can expect a serious avocado shortage coming soon as people rush to their grocery stores to buy up this latest ticket to Fruitopia. Just a few news headlines we found:

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You might have heard that they lower cholesterol, but the latest story from the Washington Post may have jumped the shark and showed how wildly things can go by asserting that this “newest miracle food” has potential cancer busting properties.

I am tempted to resort to the Australian word “spruik” which means to promote or publicize, usually in a crass way, to describe the exaggerated story served up by the Washington Post. As in:   “Heya Mate, I’ll be stuffed these drongos are spruiking avos again.” (translation: Hello friend, I’m pretty surprised these fools are promoting avocados again,”) This story feels like pure spruik, ie: shameless avocado publicity without a shred of support for this cancer-busting claim.

It cites a study that a fat called avocatin B in avocados can combat acute myeloid leukemia, a deadly form of cancer, and we’re told that this unique avocado fat can “target leukemia stem cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.” Sound promising? You bet, but don’t run to the drug store yet. If you read the study – how many journalists who reported on this do you think actually read the study? – you’d see that this was pre-clinical, in vitro research.  That means no human testing, not even any animal testing; it was done in a dish in a basic research laboratory.  But the reader is left with the punchline that is now starting to sound tiresome: eat avocados anyway, because they could lower bad cholesterol.

My take, like Kathleen Fairfield, a physician and trained nutritional epidemiologist in Maine is that if you like avocados then you should eat them. As for her response to this latest bit of avos-spruiking, she agrees you need to take the latest avocado advocacy with a pinch of salt. “There’s a huge leap from the food to the development of a drug” she told me from her office in Maine. There’s no early phase trials, no rodent studies. Nothing.“

Dr. Fairfield has reviewed stories on avocados as part of HealthNewsReview and reminds me that what counts is your dietary pattern, not specific foods. “There’s no magic food,” she tells me, adding that “it was unfortunate that this writer didn’t use this opportunity to say that.” Basically you mostly want to eat a plant-based diet that is low in processed foods.

I’ll take that diet, hold the spruiking please.

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