Bad Science Reporting BullShit-O-Meter… Activated!

Recently, a post about the anti-cancer effects of ginger was cropping up on my feed quite a bit, and it caught my attention. I was immediately inclined to call bullshit on the whole thing, not only because the source was Earth, We Are One, but the all-caps title STUDY SHOWS GINGER IS 10,000X STRONGER THAN CHEMO (ONLY KILLS CANCER CELLS) was telling of an alt-medicine crapfest in itself.

However, not all alternative medicine ideas are equal. Sometimes they spawn from complete garbage (homeopathy, I’m looking at you), while other times they are simply exaggerating and twisting a small grain of truth into something it’s not, and sometimes that small grain of truth can be interesting. So, where does this article fall in the scale of bad science reporting, I asked myself? I am nothing but diligent in these matters, so I looked into it.

Of course, unsurprisingly, the so called studies were not linked in the post, but rather they quoted as their source. Sigh, OK, let’s take a look at it. Before my screen was overcome by popups asking me to subscribe to this and that, I managed to glimpse a few titles on the homepage, including 6 Things You Need To Know If You’re Friends With A Leo, and Press THIS Point on Your Belly to Remove Pounds of Toxins From Your Colon. Oh dear, it’s one of those sites. This might be an interesting fountain of silliness for future posts, but for now I’m on a mission to find the article in question.After using the search engine to find the article, I can immediately see that EWAO blatantly plagiarized the entire thing, from the title to the images and the text, except this version of the article actually links to the studies! And they’re real papers! Score one for David Wolfe! Color me impressed.So, what do the studies actually say?The article actually mentions two studies. The first involves using ginger root extract to kill prostate cancer cells, whereas the other focuses on one single compound which is found in ginger, 6-shogaol, and its effect on breast cancer. In the article on the subject, David Wolfe says ginger extract was able to reduce the size of a prostate tumor by 56% in mice. Weeelll…. no. Not really. It is true that the ginger extract killed prostate cancer cells in vitro. It is also true that nude mice with prostate tumors which were fed on ginger extract were better off after 8 weeks than the control group. These are in fact very interesting findings. However, here is the graph from the paper, in which the blue are the controls, and the pink are the mice fed on ginger extract.Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 12.07.18 PMAs you can see, the ginger extract did not reduce the tumors at all, but rather stopped them from growing as much as they did in the control groups. That is an excellent finding, and it is true that after 8 weeks the difference between the control and fed group was 56%, but to say that the ginger extract reduced the size of the tumors is just misleading. It did, certainly, make a difference, and it is extremely promising that the GE-fed mice were able to metabolize the extract in such a way that it had any effect at all on their tumors, but there is a reason that the authors of this paper put a far greater emphasis on chemoprevention, rather than chemotherapy. In the second paper, the authors didn’t bother with ginger extracts at all, but simply bought the isolated compound 6-shogaol from a chemical company. This paper is the one that supposedly has the fabulous claim of this compound being 10,000X more effective than commonly used chemotherapy drugs. Well, OK, what does the paper say?After combing through the paper, I found where that magical number came from. In a first experiment to check how effective 6-shogaol, curcumin and taxol (a chemotherapeutic drug) were at killing breast cancer cells in vitro, they treated different kinds of breast cancer cells with different concentrations of the three compounds. They found that taxol was not effective on breast cancer stem cell-like spheroids, even at concentrations up to 10,000X higher than 6-shogaol. This, of course, does not mean that 6-shogaol is 10,000X more effective at fighting cancer. In fact, taxol was extremely effective at targeting other kinds of breast cancer cells. It is still very cool that 6-shogaol can target these particularly tricky kinds of cancer cells, of course, and I’d like to see some in vivo studies on this, meaning treating mice or rats with tumors with 6-shogoal. Furthermore, it is important to note that the concentrations of ginger extract and 6-shogaol used in these studies was many many times higher than anything you can reach in your system by simply eating ginger. In the first study, they soaked grated ginger in methanol for 4 days, then concentrated the crap out of it. In the second, they went straight to the isolated compound produced by Sigma. This will not be a surprise to any of you who are familiar with medical science, there are many different drugs that we take all the time that were discovered in plant extracts, aspirin being perhaps the most famous. However, I mention it because the post on David Wolfe strongly implied that this research is promising as a potentially “natural” treatment for cancer. Is producing 6-shogaol in a chemical company natural enough for his tastes, I wonder? One thing is for sure, simply drinking ginger tea is going to do very little for your cancer once you have it, and it certainly wont work 10,000X better than chemotherapy. While I agree that this is very promising research, and I’m glad I read about it given that these ginger-derived compounds show little toxicity to healthy cells, the way it was presented on EWAO and David Wolfe was ignorant at best, dishonest at worst.So, all in all? I’m giving David Wolfe a 3/10 for science reporting this time around. Sorry guy, The New York Times kicked your butt on this one.


  1. inquisitiveraven says

    As you can see, the ginger extract did not reduce the tumors at all, but rather stopped them from growing as much as they did in the control groups.

    That’s awkwardly phrased. I think a better description of the findings would be that the ginger extract slowed the growth of the tumors, or reduced their growth rate.

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