The Daily Mail (backup copy: here) has published an article on a tomato pill that includes a headline claim that “Daily dose is as good for the heart as Mediterranean food”. The article itself, meanwhile, boldly proclaims that “British scientists have developed a groundbreaking pill which provides all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet”.
First, let us consider whether the pill is worth buying: for £35 per month you will get (according to the Mail) all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This is, however, a spend of £35 on top of your monthly grocery bill – it may actually be cheaper to follow a Mediterranean diet than to follow your normal diet and supplement it with a pill. I’ve pointed out before that it makes more sense economically to get your omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish than from fish oil pills and I suspect the same is true of tomato pills and the Mediterranean diet.
Secondly, let us consider the evidence that this pill is as effective as the Mediterranean diet in terms of cardiovascular disease. There is no indication in the Mail’s article as to whether the study performed into this pill has been published in a respectable peer-reviewed journal (or even been published) – or whether it has been replicated by other scientists (large scale trials are planned, apparently). Nor is there any indication that the pill has actually been compared to the Mediterranean diet – the article simply points out that the pill could halt or reverse “the buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls in just two months, without side-effects”. As long as the mainstream media fail to provide links or citations to the trials they discuss, we will not be able to judge the validity of the research or of the conclusions that the researchers or the media have drawn. This is a serious failing on the part of the media.
Thirdly, the article states quite clearly that the pill in question “provides all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet”. If I may be pedantic for a moment, I would like to point out that the study referred to by the Mail apparently simply looked at the effects of a tomato pill on the buildup of fatty deposits – the Mediterranean diet may have health benefits in other areas that the pill does not. The abstract of this paper states that “the Mediterranean diet can reduce disease activity, pain and stiffness in patients with inflammatory arthritis and may thus constitute a valuable support for patients suffering from these diseases”; while the abstract of this paper states that “A Mediterranean diet pattern appears to be favorable for a reduced cancer risk”.
2. Don’t take too seriously anything you read in the mainstream media on health.
1. The media will continue to promote miracle pills, whether there is good evidence for them or not.
2. Entrepeneurs will continue to sell food components in pill form whether or not there is good reason to take these pills rather than simply eat a healthy diet.
3. The media will continue to publish stories about scientific research into health and will continue to fail to provide adequate information about the research they are discussing – let alone link to or properly cite the research. Often, the research will be unpublished.