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    Dec 22, 2014

    6 Times Health Headlines Got A Little Too Carried Away In 2014

    Proof that you really shouldn't believe everything you read.

    The BMJ just published a study that finds that hype in health news headlines is heavily associated with exaggerated press releases.

    For some prime examples of this hype, here are six health headlines from 2014 that really needed to calm down and take a step back.

    1. The headline: Your Butt Is A Hero: Scientists Say Smelling Farts Might Cure Cancer / Via

    The truth: No, of course farts don't cure cancer. Come on. The study actually shows that researchers created a molecule, called AP39, that was able to deliver hydrogen sulfide to mitochondria in a lab environment. The hydrogen sulfide had a protective effect on the mitochondria, basically keeping them stronger for longer.

    Better headline: Researchers Created A New Molecule That Delivers Hydrogen Sulfide to Mitochondria, Protecting Their Integrity

    2. The headline: OMFG: Science Says A Glass Of Red Wine Might Be Equivalent To An Hour At The Gym

    ABC / Via Emily Orley /

    The truth: No, red wine can not replace exercise. I'm so sorry!

    There are a ton of studies about the benefits of resveratrol, but the study that all the health headlines were referring to doesn't even say that red wine replaces exercise — it says that red wine may — may! — be a good addition to exercise. So you actually would still need to work out. And even with that said... the study itself was actually done on rats, and it used resveratrol, which is a compound found in red wine. The bottom line is that it's way too big of a leap to go from "resveratrol has promising effects in lab rats that are also exercising," to "guzzle red wine, get stronger muscles and a healthier heart."

    Better headline: Supplementing Exercise With Dietary Resveratrol Improves Workout Endurance in Lab Rats

    3. The headline: 'Men Are Idiots', New Study Says

    Motion Picture Corporation of America / Via

    The truth: This analysis looked at Darwin Award winners from the past 20 years, and determined that 88.7% of them were men. Previous studies have shown that men engage in generally riskier behavior than women do. But these facts don't definitively prove that men are "idiots."

    (The Darwin Awards, FYI, is a joke "honor" awarded every year to people who self-select out of the gene pool by dying or getting sterilized as a result of foolish behavior.)

    Yes, the "men are idiots" conclusion is obviously a joke, but it's also offensive (and offensively lazy). Winning the Darwin Awards isn't the only way to measure stupidity, and is very likely not the best way. Along the same lines, while men may in fact be more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors that can cause them bodily harm, risk-taking behavior in general isn't the only (or best) way to measure stupidity, either.

    Better headlines:

    Darwin Award Winners Are Overwhelmingly Male


    Men Are More Likely Than Women To Die From Making Foolish and Risky Choices, Or At Least They're More Likely To Get Media Attention For It

    4. The headline: Running Just 5 Minutes A Day Could Add Years To Your Life

    The truth: The researchers never actually looked at the scenario where people ran for exactly five minutes a day or less, according to a nicely done fact-check article by Instead they just found that people who ran for less than 51 minutes per week ended up living longer than people who didn't run. That could potentially translate to five minutes a day. But not necessarily! It could just as easily (and maybe more realistically) mean that people who ran for about 20 or 25 minutes, two times a week, lived longer than people who didn't run at all. The fact is, we don't know for sure.

    Better headline: People Who Run Less Than 51 Minutes A Week Have Lower Odds of Dying Than People Who Don't Run At All

    5. The headline: G-spot doesn't exist, and neither do vaginal orgasms

    CBS / Via

    The truth: The gajillions of people who experience vaginal orgasms would beg to differ. OK, so the G-spot as you may envision it — some button that you can push to create an orgasm — doesn't exist. But more and more research is pointing to the idea that the clitoris, urethra, and front of the inside wall of the vagina (where the G-spot is supposed to live) all work together as a "clitourethrovaginal complex" that, when stimulated just right, can produce seriously intense orgasms.

    So there's no magic doorbell in your vagina, but that doesn't mean that vaginal orgasms are a myth!

    Better headline: New Research Shows That The "G-spot" Is More Like A Complex Of Parts Working Together

    6. The headline: You can lose weight, just by breathing / Via

    The truth: When you lose weight, the molecules in your fat cells gets converted mostly into carbon dioxide... which you then breathe out. That's where the fat "goes" when you lose it. Your body naturally burns calories and fat just by existing every day; that can result in weight loss if you are eating less food than your body uses to function (think calories in, calories out for a very rough and not totally accurate way to depict this — carbon in, carbon out might be another way of thinking about it). Read this for a bit more detail.

    In any case, yes — when you lose weight, fat (or what used to be fat) escapes from your body when you breathe out. But the act of breathing alone doesn't make you lose weight!

    Better headline: When You Lose Weight, Your Fat Mostly Escapes Your Body As Carbon Dioxide When You Breathe

    *Obligatory and probably obvious disclaimer: In my years working as a health-related journalist and writer for numerous publications, I've absolutely been guilty of committing many similar offenses. But I'm doing what I can to be better, and that starts with not overhyping science findings. Cool!

    And hey — if you don't want to be fooled by over-hyped health journalism again, read 11 Ways To Sniff Out Clickbait Health Journalism.

    AP39 actually delivers hydrogen sulfide to mitochondria, not mitochondrial cells. Oops! Trust no one.

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