Tuesday, March 22, 2005

WebMD's pomegranate and dairy weight loss hype

Typical pseudo-scientific industry-funded hype. The WebMD article today says:
Forget the coffee or orange juice: A new study shows that pomegranate juice should be the beverage of choice to fight hardening of the arteries. Researchers found that pomegranate juice not only appears to prevent hardening of the arteries by reducing blood vessel damage, but the antioxidant-rich juice may also reverse the progression of this disease.
The actual scientific article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says nothing of the sort. In a study of 24 hypercholestremic mice, a dozen who were fed pomegranate juice had evidence of improved artery walls, compared to another dozen who received a placebo. There were also studies of human cells in a laboratory dish, which were exposed to "shear stress" to simulate high blood pressure. The last line of the WebMD article tells the true story: "However, large clinical trials using different antioxidants have yet to show that antioxidants can prevent heart attacks and other major heart-related events." The WebMD reporters don't mention that the study was funded by a grant from the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Revocable Trust. The Resnicks own the POM Wonderful company, for which one of the authors is a consultant. You may have seen POM Wonderful's poster advertisements touting the health benefits of pomegranates.

I only noticed this story, because I remembered the names of the WebMD author, Jennifer Warner, and the WebMD person who reviewed the story, Michael Smith, MD. They were the same pair beside this story a year ago overselling the dairy weight loss claim. This claim has been taken up by the USDA-sponsored dairy checkoff advertising. The dairy article didn't mention that researcher Michael Zemel, quoted in the article, has a patent on the dairy weight loss claim. Such a patent seems odd enough in itself, and in any case it gives an awful strong economic incentive for future research to corroborate the existing conclusion.

Okay, here's the clincher. Promo Magazine had this strange short article in September about a partnership between the National Dairy Council and WebMD. What exactly is their financial arrangement? Shouldn't WebMD acknowledge this partnership in articles on this topic?


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I was searching for information on financial links between webmd.com and the dairy industry after reading an article on webmd that said that a study showed that milk doubled a woman's risk for ovarian cancer, but that did not mean that women should stop drinking milk. My jaw dropped of course, and I figured webmd must be taking money from the dairy industry. It's hard to find any information on webmd's funding.