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'Meat gives you the illness you die of' - the weird world of celebrity science beliefs

From special diets and miracle cures to chemicals, vaccines and evolution -- there seems to be no limit to the subjects on which some celebrities will speak. But, while some may be talented actors, athletes, TV presenters and pop stars, science is not their forte.

A compendium of cod science and misconceptions espoused by celebrities is published today, with the likes of Roger Moore, Heather Mills and Shilpa Shetty among the worst offenders.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2009, published by the charity Sense about Science, highlights unfounded claims by Moore, the former James Bond actor, that foie gras causes Alzheimer's disease, while Heather Mills suggests that meat putrifies in your stomach for 40 years and gives you "the illness that you die of".

Sense About Science aims to promote benefits of scientific research and the use of accurate information in public arenas.

Sporting names are prominent in its review, particularly for endorsing unproven therapies. These include Robin van Persie, the Arsenal striker, who treated torn ankle ligaments with horse placenta fluid.

Oxygen

Celebrity enthusiasm for "chemical-free" products and lifestyles also come under the microscope. Shetty, the Bollywood actress, claimed that carbonated drinks "sap oxygen from your body" while Denise van Outen, the entertainer, and Natasha Hamilton, a former singer with the band Atomic Kitten, endorsed a deodorant "free of aluminium and parabens, which have been linked to breast cancer".

Gary Moss, a pharmaceutical scientist at the University of Keele, said that such claims simply were not substantiated by the evidence. "The skin is generally impermeable to charged chemicals, like aluminium, which is found naturally in our food and drinking water," Dr Moss said.

Dieticians also took US celebrities to task for their continued advocacy of using vinegar shots to flush out fat and digest food more quickly. The craze has devotees including Cindy Crawford, the model, Megan Fox, the actress, and Fergie, a singer with the Black Eyed Peas.

Sarah Palin, former US vice-presidential candidate, appeared again in the review, following an earlier alert about her questioning the purpose of genetic research on fruit flies. This time she was criticised for saying she "didn't believe in the theory that human beings -- thinking, loving beings -- originated from fish that sprouted legs" or from "monkeys who swung down from the trees".

Upsides

Sense about Science said that the year was not without its celebrity upsides, with an encouraging rise in those of television presenters, performers and commentators debunking pseudoscience and promoting evidence-based thinking.

The charity highlighted Bonnie Tyler, the Eighties rock star, who spoke of the benefits of acupuncture: "I lost some weight, but I was also on a more sensible diet at the same time which, if I'm cynical, is more likely the reason for the weight loss."

Scientifically speaking: Those words of wisdom

Heather Mills, former model: "[Meat] sits in your colon for 40 years and eventually gives you the illness you die of. And that is a fact."

Melita Gordon, gastroenterologist: "Meat proteins, like all other proteins, are digested by enzymes, and absorbed in the small bowel before they ever reach the colon. Any indigestible matter is...expelled."

Roger Moore, actor: "There are even surveys suggesting that eating foie gras can lead to Alzheimer's, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. In short, eating foie gras is a tasty way of getting terminally ill."

Dr Stuart Rulten, molecular biologist: "There is no scientific evidence that eating foie gras will directly cause Alzheimer's disease, diabetes or arthritis."

Gwyneth Paltrow, actress: "When I'd read about what pesticides do to small animals, I thought, why would I expose my child to that?"

Professor Alan Boobis, toxicologist: "Animals are exposed to doses substantially greater than those to which consumers will ever be exposed. If studies produce doubt about the safety of a pesticide, it is not approved for use."

Shilpa Shetty, actress: "I avoid carbonated drinks -- they sap all the oxygen from your body and make your skin wrinkly and dehydrated."

Professor Ron Maughan, physiologist: "Carbonated drinks have no effect on oxygen levels in the body. At rest, the body is constantly producing carbon dioxide and this amount increases during exercise. By comparison, the amount from a fizzy drink is trivial."

Fergie from Black Eyed Peas: "I do vinegar shots. It has to be organic apple cider, unfiltered. Two tablespoons. For some reason, I've noticed a difference on my stomach."

Lucy Jones, dietician: "As attractive as it sounds, there's no magic pill, lotion or potion for a quick fix to weight loss. The body, including the liver, is a well-oiled detoxing machine, which will not be improved by vinegar, whether it be organic, apple cider, unfiltered, or your bog standard malt vinegar."

Suzanne Somers, actress, claims chemotherapy helped to kill cancer patient Patrick Swayze. "[They] put poison in him ...why couldn't they have built him up nutritionally and gotten rid of the toxins?"

Marianne Baker, of Cancer Research UK: "Chemotherapy is poison, it must be in order to kill cancer cells. The drug doses are optimised so that they target the cancerous cells but are flushed out before damaging most healthy cells."

Denise Van Outen, entertainer on a new deodourant: "Free from harmful chemicals, aluminium and parabens, which have been linked to breast cancer".

Natasha Hamilton, former pop singer: "I was unaware of the dangerous chemicals antiperspirants contain which have been linked to breast cancer."

Gary Moss, pharmaceutical scientist: "Research has also shown that it is unlikely that these products would even enter the body, as the molecules are too large to reach the bloodstream."

Robin Van Persie, Arsenal footballer, on treatment for his ankle injury: "She is vague about her methods but I know she massages you using fluid from a placenta. I am going to try it. It cannot hurt and, if it helps, it helps."

Professor Greg Whyte, sports scientist: "Any benefits from the placenta treatment would more likely be due to the massage than the placenta."

hnews@herald.ie


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