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Nonsense masquerading as news in Fox coverage of “cancer-fighting spices”

Cancer-fighting spices offer flavorful way to eat healthy

Our Review Summary

spicesThis story relies on the musings of chef Floyd Cardoz, backed by references to petri dish studies, to support its claims about the “cancer-fighting” properties of various spices. If this half-baked story were a dish at one of Cardoz’s restaurants, it’d be sent back to the kitchen for a refire. We offer a variety of suggestions below in this review for how the story could have been more accurate and informative.

 

Why This Matters

Stories like this one — which don’t make even the most cursory effort to get their facts straight — are dangerous. They reinforce the idea that there are “quick fixes” to preventing a disease as implacable as cancer. They contribute to the confusing mix of health messages that cause consumers to tune out in frustration. They make it harder to reach readers with potentially useful, evidence-based information that could improve health.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The spice aisle can get pricey, but we won’t ding the story for not discussing the cost of cardamom.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story is peppered with references to the cancer-fighting properties of spices. Tumeric is “a great antioxidant, it’s got great anti-cancer properties.” And “garlic, onions, shallots and leeks can also act as cancer preventers. Freshly ground pepper can “even help prevent breast cancer tumors from growing.”  But nothing in the story is quantified. Whatever studies these claims are based on are not described in any way.

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

Not Applicable

We won’t penalize the story for not delving into the potential downsides of too much spicy food. The story does contain a warning “not to overdo it.”

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

Not Satisfactory

The claim about pepper “prevent[ing] breast cancer tumors from growing” seems to be based on this petri dish study from 2009. But the news release for that study warned, “Note: This work has not been tested in patients, and patients are not encouraged to add curcumin or piperine supplements to their diet at this time.” The story contained no such caveat.

We’re not sure where the story gets the idea that a fennel-ginger broth  “can help to fight off harmful cancer cells.” Neither this nor any of the other claims are adequately sourced and no description of the underlying evidence is provided. The story refers vaguely to “studies.” What studies? By whom? Providing links to the underlying studies would at least have allowed readers to see where this evidence came from and what kind of research we’re talking about.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

The story doesn’t exaggerate the impact of cancer. Nor does it provide any context about the disease. We’ll rate this Not Applicable.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only source quoted is the celebrity chef, who also happens to be hawking a book with spicy recipes. Consulting a physician or someone else with nutrition or cancer expertise would have boosted the credibility of this information.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story missed an opportunity to discuss which diet and lifestyle factors are actually associated with reduced cancer risk and might be worth adopting. For instance, maintaining a healthy bodyweight, regular physical activity, avoiding excessive alcohol, etc. Merely adding spice to unhealthy foods will not reduce the risk of cancer — something the story could have been clearer about.

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

Satisfactory

The availability of spicy food is not in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

Is there anything new here besides the chef’s forthcoming cookbook, which will be publishing this year according to his website? If so, the story doesn’t establish what that is.

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

Satisfactory

This promotional-themed story seems like it could have been prompted by a news release. But the video accompanying the story seems to provide evidence of an actual interview that forms the basis for the quotes in the story. We’ll give the benefit of the doubt here.

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory

Comments (1)

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binduanand

July 3, 2015 at 10:51 am

Please check with Ayurvedic medicine – a system of traditional Indian medicine.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

Reply