Evidence Matters

because science reporting and decision-making should be evidence-based

C4 and the Lamentable Kitchen Pharmacy

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Many of us have an anecdote or family story we’ve never checked into because we don’t want to learn that it isn’t true. Sometimes, the motives are that we want to avoid humiliation but frequently it’s because it’s a good story as it stands but would lose something in the re-telling if it were accurate. How many people acknowledge that Simon Singh’s version of 9 Million Bicycles is more rigorous and logical but still prefer Katie Melua’s version if only because it scans better?

C4 must like to believe that chlorophyll is just like haemoglobin. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science famously corrected C4 on this point when they broadcast Gillian McKeith who claimed that “chlorophyll…will really oxygenate your blood”.

Chlorophyll is a small green molecule that uses the energy from light to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. Plants then use this sugar energy to make everything else they need, like protein, and you breathe in the oxygen, and maybe you even eat the plants. You also breathe out carbon dioxide…
It’s very dark in your bowels. There is no light there. Nor are there gills in your bowels. Even fish do not have gills in their bowels. Consequently the chlorophyll will not create oxygen, and even if it did, even if Dr Gillian McKeith PhD stuck a searchlight up your bum to prove a point, you would not absorb any even slightly significant amount of oxygen with your bowel…
[Gillian McKeith] is a menace to the public understanding of science, and anyone who gives her a platform should be ashamed of themselves.

Strong words but justified. After that incident and the subsequent debacle when Goldacre revealed that Gillian McKeith had ‘voluntarily’ given up using her title as it was misleading consumers into believing that she is medically qualified, one might imagine that C4 would avoid any future repetition of even the vaguest suggestion that chlorophyll oxygenates the blood. Both of these topics are further elaborated in Goldacre’s book, Bad Science.

However, the lure of the story is just too strong for C4. Naturopath and herbal practitioner Annelie Whitfield is presenting C4’s Kitchen Pharmacy. Another blonde, slender, alternative therapist who is encouraging us to drink an anti-ageing smoothie made of dark green leafy vegetables because:

Interestingly, the chlorophyll molecule…which is why all these vegetables are green is actually almost identical to haemin which is the protein found in haemoglobin. Haemoglobin carries oxygen around our body. So when you look at dark green leafy vegetables, you have to think, “instant oxygen therefore instant energy” which makes you feel more youthful.
[Anti-age green juice, video 2 01:00-01:22. With a sense of inevitability, the programme is made with some support from Neal’s Yard.]

Yes, it’s true that both haemoglobin and chlorophyll have a porphyrin ring as part of their structure. However, haemoglobin is coordinated to iron and chlorophyll is coordinated to magnesium. So, assuming the two are equivalent would be like recommending that someone should take some rust if they are in need of a laxative because they’re iron and magnesium oxides respectively.

Reported cases of green blood are related to processes and exposures that result in sulphaemoglobinaemia, not the everyday eating of greens. There is no plausible mechanism whereby chlorophyll can act as haemoglobin in the body: it doesn’t matter how many times C4 broadcasts this nonsense, eating or drinking dark green leafy vegetables will not oxygenate your blood. Even Harry Potter had to grow gills and other fishy modifications before gillyweed helped him to breathe under water.

We’ve sent a comment to C4 and it will be interesting to see if we receive a response. Factual programmes should be factual, otherwise, run a tickertape that tells the viewer that it is an alt.reality.



Written by oatmealts

January 9, 2009 at 9:58 pm

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