Thursday January 8, 2004
Talk bad science
Â· With painful inevitability, that old chestnut about chocolate’s health-giving properties popped up on the health and women’s pages of almost every newspaper, as is traditional at Christmas. The Daily Express eagerly pointed out that it’s “a good source” of flavanols, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and iron. And in the Telegraph: “Chocolate is good for you,” says Chloe Doutre-Roussel, chocolate buyer at Fortnum & Mason. “It has minerals such as fluoride for the teeth and potassium, like bananas.” Doutre-Roussel is, we are told, “an ultra-slim Frenchwoman… Although she eats 1lb of chocolate a day, she weighs a mere 7st 12lb.” Mars, which has been lavishing money on research into the benefits of chocolate for 10 years now, started this tradition five years ago, employing PR consultancy Grayling Healthcare to send out press releases such as “Media Alert: News for Chocolate Lovers this Christmas”.
So, whatever the truth is about minerals, the manufacturers of Galaxy and Milky Way must have been disappointed by recent research showing that what few antioxidants there are in cocoa beans are hardly absorbed from milk chocolate at all. Manufacturers first flaunted chocolate’s healthiness during food shortages after the first world war, and only stopped when we started measuring and labelling the contents. Just as that process got going, the 1930 Food and Drug Review said: “The magic words ‘health giving’ are today the most overworked and loosely applied in the advertising lexicon.” – 74 years ago.
Â· The Mail on Sunday’s “integrated health expert” Dr Ali was busy this week writing about headaches. “The skull,” he claims, “contracts and expands a dozen times or so each minute to push the [cerebrospinal] fluid round, but tight neck muscles and misaligned skull bones can disrupt this process.” You don’t need to be a doctor like Ali – whose clients include Prince Charles and Geri Halliwell – to know that the skull is a rigid box of bone and, since you asked, the fluid is kept moving by the waving movements of cilia lining the ventricles, respiratory and arterial pulsations, postural changes and the pressure gradient between the places where it’s made and reabsorbed. Ali, despite qualifying in Delhi and Moscow, is not registered with the General Medical Council because, his website informs us, “the treatment which he personally provides uses massage, diet, yoga and natural supplements and oils which do not need prescription”. Why not rob a bank and visit him anyway, at his “Integrated Health Centre”, just off Harley Street.