How the Media Got a Study About Vegetarianism Really, Really Wrong

Bild: Wikimedia Commons/alfa88papa (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Bild: Wikimedia Commons/alfa88papa (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
If you’re the sort of person who believes bacon makes everything better, then a study that made headlines this week claiming a vegetarian diet can kill you was probably a welcome sight. Enough with this nonsense about how eating less meat is better for you, for animals, and for the planet. Vegetarianism is deadly, the headlines read.

By Kaleigh Rogers|MOTHERBOARD

“Long term vegetarian diet changes human DNA raising risk of cancer and heart disease,” the Telegram warned. “Being a long term vegetarian changes your DNA and increases your risk of cancer” according to Cosmo UK. “Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns,” the New York Post proclaimed.

Except here’s the problem: that’s not what the actual study said. At all.

“In the beginning, we were pretty happy to see our research getting so much attention,” Kaixiong Ye, a biology post-doc at Cornell University and co-author of the study in question, told me. “But over the last few days I have found that most of the news coming out right now [on our study] is wrong. It’s kind of frustrating.”

So what did the study actually find? Ye and his colleagues identified an allele—a gene variant—in some people whose ancestors maintained a primarily vegetarian diet. This allele allows these individuals to produce synthetic versions of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid, which are essential for brain function but can be lacking from vegetarian diets.

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