The Ever-Accurate Mainstream Media on Detox

January 11, 2009 at 6:07 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , )

The Daily Telegraph have lost it. If you consider that they had it to lose, that is*. They have written a piece on “10 ways to detox in your garden” that refers to Ben Goldacre as being part of Sense about Science and states that Goldacre “says the liver will detox your body naturally with good lifelong diet and exercise habits. And the garden is the ideal place to start – and sustain – your new regime.” For the record, Goldacre has pointed out on his miniblog that he has “nothing to do with SaS. They’re alright, but I’m nowt to do with them.” It’s unclear where the journalist got this idea from, but fact-checking is clearly a thing of the past in the British Mainstream Media.

I have absolutely no idea why Bunny Guinness decided to quote Ben Goldacre at the top of a piece about detoxing in your garden with antioxidants and omega 3 oils when this is exactly the kind of bullshit article that Dr Goldacre tends to criticise in the Guardian and on, but if the intention was to associate Dr Goldacre with the piece she has written in an attempt to lend credibility to her ideas it seems to me to be a seriously odd, misguided idea. That is, at the moment, the only reason that springs to mind and could also be why Bunny referred to SaS.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the claims. “Fresh leaves stimulate the liver and kidney, helping to remove toxins.” WTF? If Bunny can tell me how she knows this then I’ll be very interested to hear about it. Until then, I shan’t be rushing out to pick leaves from my garden in an attempt to stimulate my body’s organs and remove toxins.

“For salad dressings select healthy oils. English-grown extra-virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil ( has half the saturated fat content of olive oil, is delicious and is high in omega 3 and antioxidants.” Olive Oil is already relatively low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturates (14g and 73g respectively, according to USDA). Will extra-virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil really be more beneficial? Note the website address in the quote – Bunny is quite keen on providing links in her articles to providers of organic seeds, cold-pressed oils etc**. I will refrain from commenting on the references to omega 3 and antioxidants. As you are probably all readers of the Bad Science blog and will already ahve your own opinions on these magic bullets.

“Canadian scientists have found that Brussels sprouts, leeks, beets and kale (Curly Scarlet from DT Brown, is delicious, decorative and hardy) are the most powerful anti-cancer vegetables.” Ah, good. Journalists love telling us that “scientists have found…” Shame they rarely give you enough information on these scientists for you to find the actual paper and read it for yourself. I dug around and the Canadian scientists are probably Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras, authors of Foods that Fight Cancer. I couldn’t find anything about cruciferous vegetables on Pubmed authored by these gentlemen and the nearest I could find on there to Bunny’s claim was some reference in a paper they wrote for Canadian Family Physicians that referred to the anti-cancer properties of vegetables. I can’t find any peer-reviewed papers by the pair that make this claim about cruciferous vegetables being “the most powerful anti-cancer vegetables” and I suspect that it may either come in their book. I have no idea why Bunny considers cancer-prevention to be a question of detoxing in your garden. When it comes to advice on healthy eating, I can only recommend readers follow the sage advice of Michael Pollan. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That or look on the FSA, NHS or BDA websites for advice.

As you can see, there’s a fair bit of bullshit in there. But nothing too surprising from the author of such pieces as Mistletoe: The druid’s favourite.

* One recent example of the Telegraph’s approach to journalism.

** A piece on herbs managed to give out the web address and phone number of Jekka McVicar – and to provide a handy readers’ recommendation to try Jekka McVicar’s book (“available for £23 + £1.25 p&p through Telegraph Books, 0870 428 4115”). It also included plugs for Suttons via a reader offer, and Poyntzfield Herb Nursery.



  1. seasonticket said,

    It’s sad though, I want it to be true. I want the toxins that have “built up” in my body to be magically removed by salad (and not by boring urination or defecation). I want my liver and kidneys to work more efficiently because I had some herbs. I want special vegetable oils to prevent cancer.

    This sort of magical thinking is comforting. Life is scary, being sick is scary, mortality is scary. If only I could ward off the scary stuff with gardening and middle class menus.

    I think she name checked SAS and BG at the start on a bet. I think most things journalists do are on a bet.

  2. jdc325 said,

    “I think most things journalists do are on a bet.”
    Ha, it could be true. I’ve heard about journos trying to get certain words into their pieces on a bet. Possibly my favourite journalism story involves the guy who was leaving his job and who hated his new boss. His final editorial contained an extremely rude acrostic about said boss.

    Edit: Stephen Pollard – story here and here.

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