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.


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