Camembert kills cancer? Cheesy headlines distort preliminary rat study

Cheese plate served with wine, jam and honeyThe headlines about a study from the University of Michigan stink worse than a block of ripe Limburger and have more holes than a wheel of Swiss.

The headlines are based on a University of Michigan study of a compound found in dairy products called nisin. But the U of M news release about the study makes it clear that there are at least two critical qualifiers:

  1. The study was done in rats.
  2. The dose of nisin needed to kill cancer cells is up to several thousand times higher than what is found in cheese.

The release notes:  “Nisin, a colorless, tasteless powder, is typically added to food at the rate of .25 to 37.5 mg/kg. Many foods contain nisin, but nowhere near the 800 mg/kg needed to kill cancer cells.”

While it might generate more clicks, claiming that “cheese fights cancer” is a ridiculous and misleading leap from what was actually reported in the study.

These are the kinds of headlines that make readers roll their eyes at nutrition research and which erode the public trust in science. We should all stop writing them.

Hat tip to Colby Vorland, who tweets as @nutsci on Twitter, for initially flagging this study and related news coverage.  

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