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Today’s cancer fruit story du jour involves tomatoes – specifically, special genetically modified purple tomatoes that “can beat cancer“, according to the headlines.

In case you missed the reports, scientists have developed a new GM tomato that’s packed full of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which, according to some stories, will protect people who eat them against cancer and other diseases.

If only life were that simple.

As we’ve said before, cancer is a complex disease that has lots of ’causes’ – including the genes you inherit from your parents, the lifestyle you subsequently lead, and, sadly, a bit of bad luck too.

The problem with a lot of the coverage of the super-tomato story is that it misses out on this complexity, and suggests that one single lifestyle change – buying high-tech fruit and veg – can compensate for all of the above.

There’s also a big – and in our opinion unwarranted – assumption in some of the coverage. And that’s the simple equation that antioxidants = good.

There’s a fair amount of evidence that some antioxidants in our foods can help prevent some kinds cancer in some people. But the complexity of this evidence often gets translated in the media and in advertising to ‘antioxidants prevent disease’. And that’s not what the science says.

Here’s an excellent, well-argued article looking at the evidence for the role of antioxidants in health and disease. It’s well worth a read before you pop to the shops to splash out on the latest health fad.

Henry

edit – you can read full details of the science behind the purple tomato story on our News Feed

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Comments

Henry May 5, 2009

The fact there there is a gulf between the facts and hype regarding a GM product comes as no surprise to those follow the GM issue. Biotec companies make huge claims about the benefits of potential GM products in order to persuade governments and the public to accept their controversial current crop of RoundUp Ready and Bt crops that offer no benefits to consumers.

GRUSHA December 2, 2008

i want to know that do these “purple tomatoes ” beat cancer or not??

Richard Evans November 4, 2008

When it comes to fruit and vegetables and cancer prevention, the best advice is to eat at least five portions a day of a variety of them.

Ant October 27, 2008

What I thought was most interesting about this story was that the sections of the press that were singing the praises of the purple, genetically modified, tomato are the same ones that have previously been very vociferous about the evils of ‘Frankenstein food’!