The goal of the study was to show that the colon lining had decreased levels of inflammatory markers. Although this was accomplished in this very small and short study, it remains unclear whether this has any importance in the complex pathways that lead to colonic polyps and ultimately, malignancies.
Look at how the headline – which starts the story – and the final sentence – conflict:
Americans are overwhelmed by a tsunami of health care news every day. Why was it vital that they receive this extremely preliminary information now? Can the flood of health care news – including from such tiny, early studies – simply confuse and turn off readers? We think so.
News decision-makers may say “Our readers have an unsatiable appetite for health news.” But where is the evidence that they want this kind of medical minutiae?
Reporting on results with intermediate endpoints such as were measured in the colonic biopsies may have nothing to do with ultimate health effects.
The story says that a month’s supply of ginger supplements typically runs about $10 – $30.
What does a decrease in inflammation level of 28% mean?
No context is given for the scope of this effect.
The story only says that previous animal research showed ginger “isn’t potentially toxic to the stomach like aspirin.”
What about in people?
The story states that the National Library of Medicine that ginger is “likely safe…although some people may develop side effects.
Yes, there were caveats, such as:
But our grade is unsatisfactory because the validity of the research isn’t questioned. How valid were the inflammation level measurements taken in the study?
What does a 28% decline in inflammation level mean? 28% of what? From what to what? What percentage is significant? We don’t even know whether these levels of inflammation (recall that the volunteers were healthy) are linked in any way to colon cancer development.
There is no evidence given that the kind of inflammation measured in study participants’ intestines is at all related to colon cancer.
Yet the headline reads: “Ginger Supplements Might Ease Inflammation Linked to Colon Cancer”
Is all stomach inflammation so linked?
Readers may think that inflammation itself is worrisome, when in fact inflammatory markers are always present to varying degrees.
One independent source was quoted.
No context was given about any other research in the field of the inflammation – colon cancer link.
Is this the only research in the field?
The relevant comparison may be the relative reduction in colorectal cancer risk (or inflammatory markers) with aspirin, the most common anti-inflammatory product most people are exposed to.
The story says ginger is found in supplements and in many foods. The availability of ginger supplements is implied elsewhere in the story.
The story at least gives this context:
“Previous research in animals has suggested that ginger can reduce inflammation but isn’t potentially toxic to the stomach like aspirin, Zick noted. And scientists have linked chronic inflammation in the gut to colon cancer, suggesting that easing this inflammation could reduce the risk of the disease.”
There’s no evidence that the story relied solely on a news release.