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Ginger for allergies? Pretty good brief about a mouse study is missing a few key elements

Rating

4 Star

Powdered Ginger May Ease Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Our Review Summary

gingerA mouse study from Japan showed that rodents that had been fed powdered ginger responded with fewer sneezes and had a lower level of immune response to an allergen. This short piece about the research earns praise for stating clearly in the subheadline and in the lead sentence that the study was conducted in mice. We wish more stories would take that simple step, so crucial to understanding these results. And while the story fell short of our standards by not including any context or independent sources, it did a pretty good job of explaining the science of measuring an allergic response and quantifying rodent sneeze rates. Overall, this was a pretty good effort at briefly summarizing rodent research in a way that’s accessible and useful for readers.

 

Why This Matters

Allergies strike as many as 10-30 percent of the world population, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. And this article suggests that a readily available food product may alleviate these irritating symptoms felt by millions around the world, which is great in theory. But a small study of mice is not the basis for a headline implying that ginger will ease symptoms in people. We’re glad this story quickly recovered from that headline to clarify that the study involved mice, and that ginger hasn’t been tested for allergy symptom relief in people. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The story did not talk about the cost of adding a daily dose of ginger to one’s diet. But since that cost can’t be very significant, we’ll rate this Not Applicable.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story did a good job of sharing the limited results of the rodent study. Mice sneezed less (2.1 rather than 15.2 times) in the group that swallowed ginger, and had lower levels of immunoglobulin E, after exposure to an allergen. It was good to see that story used absolute numbers to quantify the benefits rather than stating the results as a percentage decrease.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

It seems that harms to the mice were not discussed in the research paper (not surprising as the mice were all killed as part of the study) that’s the basis for the story. A brief search didn’t turn up anything overly concerning regarding the harms of ginger, but then again, it’s not clear what the dosage given to the mice would translate to in human terms. A high-enough dose of anything can be dangerous. But while it might have been helpful to mention harms to humans attributed to powdered ginger, this may also have propagated the questionable notion that the findings are applicable to humans. We’ll rate this Not Applicable.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

To its credit, the story explains high up that the study involved mice, and it includes a closing caveat that ginger has not been tested in humans. But while many people will likely understand that the results have limited application to humans, other readers may not appreciate just how tenuous the link is between animal and human research. (Here’s some background on that issue if you care to read more.) The story falls short of warning that rodent studies frequently do not correlate well with human health. We’ll rule this close call in favor of the story and rate it Satisfactory.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not quote any sources, either independent or connected to the scientific paper. We realize that space and length limitations may make it difficult to include such sources in a brief story such as this one. Nevertheless, we wanted to hear more context for this study. Ginger has already been studied for relationships to cardiovascular disease and cancer. A comment from someone in nutritional biochemistry, or an allergist, might have helped readers take better stock of the findings.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not talk about existing ways to reduce symptoms of allergies. One could argue that such discussion would be propagating the idea the study might apply to humans — not necessarily a good thing. But then again, the whole underlying point of the story is that there’s some relevance here to people. On balance, we’d rather see the story include this information, which might be more useful for readers than the sneezing rates of mice anyway.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story mentioned that the study used powdered ginger, which it notes is used in cooking. People can deduce from this that powdered ginger is widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

As the story says, ginger has never been given to human patients for allergic rhinitis.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

We couldn’t find any news release related to this study. And since the story doesn’t include any independent perspective — which would indicate that it went beyond any such news release — we can’t be sure whether the story meets our standard here or not. We’ll rate it Not Applicable.

Total Score: 6 of 8 Satisfactory

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