October 17, 2007

Killer Woo: F-Cup Cookies

I promise I haven't taken to spending my "copious free time" reading celebrity gossip pages, but I realize that this is my second piece written about something to do with celebrity gossip. There's science v. woo at work here, though. Honestly. Also, this is a very good example of why the opinions of celebrities, even dismally D-list celebrities, should never be taken at face value when it comes to matters of science, medicine, and health.

Strange to find the basis for all this on a website called Fametastic, but there you have it.

Spice Girl Melanie C plans family - and bigger boobs

...But before then, Melanie has said she’s concentrating on growing something else: she revealed recently that she’s eating supposedly breast-enhancing biscuits to help expand her cleavage before the first comeback shows in December.

The snacks, named ‘F-Cup Cookies’ contain trans-fats and “breast-enhancing herbs”, which the makers claim will cause targeted weight gain in the desired area.

Mel told BBC Radio 1 recently: “I’ll be a guinea-pig for them. Can you imagine if my boobs got bigger suddenly? That’d be great!”
Waitaminnit, did I read that correctly? There's a product out there that women voluntarily consume precisely because it's loaded with trans-fats and magical herbs that somehow make sure that all that trans-fatty goodness gets loaded straight into their breast tissue? Seriously... with all of the evidence regarding how incredibly bad trans-fats are health-wise, there's a product out there that touts a benefit linked precisely to consuming what amounts to poison?

First, let's get the basics out of the way. There are no magical potions, no hormones, no leaves from some exotic shrub, that can possibly increase breast size without any number of other effects, none of which are among those that a sane woman wants. Breast size, which is largely based on the way that one's body stores away fat and glycogen, is determined almost entirely by genetic predisposition. Manufacturers of boob-woo typically tout some phytoesterol, a class of plant-derived compounds that mimic estrogen, as the source of their snake oil's mystical abilities. Sure enough, the makers of F-Cup Cookies are touting the herb Pueraria mirifica as their active ingredient. From their website:
Each F-cup Cook¡e contains 50mg of the herbal breast enhancer Pueraria Mirifica. Pueraria Mirifica is the same safe and effective, natural breast-enhancing ingredient found in B2UP Body Make Gum (Bust Up Gum).
If it's so "safe and effective," why is the following warning also included?
Caution: Do not consume during pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, or if you have been diagnosed with medical conditions of the ovaries, uterus, or breast. May cause loose bowels if taken in excess.
This is pure CYA; Pueraria mirifica does contain phytoestrogens, and taking anything that mimics human hormones is no safer than taking the hormones themselves. Unsupervised, massive doses of these compounds is not, and will never be, safe. Nor will it be effective; taking estrogen-like compounds may indeed increase breast size in women whose bodies are already programmed to store away fat in that part of their bodies, but those who do not already have such a predisposition to do so won't get this effect. They will, however, get other effects, which include generalized weight gain, irregular menstruation, and possibly uterine cancer if they keep up ingesting the compound for long enough.

That this Melanie C person is thinking of taking these things at the same time that she's thinking of starting a family (according to the article) simply goes to show that she doesn't have too many functioning brain cells. That she's thinking about taking them at all is pretty good evidence of this.

The ingredients for the cookies don't specifically list trans-fats as we might usually see them (e.g., partially hydrogenated oils), but they do list "shortening," which is actually a rather non-descriptive term. The cookies are billed as being low-calorie (the manufacturer claims 70 calories each; I'd like to see independent verification of that claim), but Melanie C seems to be aware of the trans-fat content, in any case.

So, let's assume a couple of things here, even if we know them not to be true. Let's assume that the phytoestrogen in these cookies can somehow magically target trans-fats into breast tissue. Is that a good thing?

Well, the evidence would suggest otherwise. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that trans-fats may be a contributing factor toward — you guessed it — breast cancer. This isn't news, really. The first study suggesting a link came out ten years ago:
Analyzing tiny fat samples from 698 European women's buttocks revealed that those with breast cancer had higher levels of trans fatty acids stored in their bodies than women without breast cancer, according to a new international study.

The study -- the first to show a significant association between such fats and the life-threatening illness -- is important because people can reduce trans fatty acid consumption by changing diets, researchers say. They suspect, but have not proven, that trans fatty acids may contribute to breast cancer development and that by cutting back on them, some women can protect themselves from the disorder...

A report on the research appears in the September issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Besides Kohlmeier, who is lead author and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, authors include Drs. Neal Simonsen, postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology, and Barry Margolin, chairman of biostatistics, both at UNC-CH.

They found about a 40 percent increased risk of breast cancer in the women who had higher levels of trans fatty acids, Kohlmeier said. All subjects, either women newly diagnosed with breast cancer or randomly selected controls, were postmenopausal and between the ages of 50 and 74. Researchers controlled statistically for smoking, drinking, degree of overweight, age at first childbirth, family history of breast cancer, age at menarche and menopause and other habits and conditions that might bias the outcome.

"Another interesting finding was that among our subjects, women who reported low intakes of polyunsaturated fats while showing the highest levels of trans fatty acids had the greatest risk of breast cancer," she said...
You get the idea.

And funnily enough, there may be a link between trans-fats and infertility in women:
...In their study, nutrition researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women with ovulation-related fertility problems tended to eat more trans fats than fertile women.

Obtaining just 2 percent of total calories from trans fats instead of healthier monounsaturated fats was associated with a doubled risk for this type of infertility.

In addition, each 2 percent increase in trans fat consumption as a replacement for carbohydrates brought a 73 percent greater risk of ovulation-related infertility, after adjusting for other known and suspected infertility risk factors, according to the study...
Admittedly, the tie between trans-fats and breast cancer hasn't been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is still some pretty good evidence, though, and certainly we do know that trans-fats are linked to cardiovascular disease.

So why would a woman want to take a product that she thinks will load this gunk into her breasts if there's even a risk that it can lead to cancer and do so at the very time she's thinking of having children when there's evidence that the stuff lowers fertility and contains compounds that even the manufacturer warns pregnant or breastfeeding women not to take (no doubt in order to protect themselves against lawsuits)?

Simple; because most celebrities really don't have the first clue what they're doing when it comes to matters of health, medicine, or science. In essence, F-Cup Cookies are snake-oil alternative medicine, and in this case we have yet another celebrity who has not only fallen for the scam herself but is out there promoting the stuff. This isn't a bit better than hearing Whoopie Goldberg's opinions on biology or Bill Maher's delusions about the horrors of having children vaccinated against disease.

Like I started off saying, I don't read about celebrity gossip. I'm certainly not the intended audience of something like Fametastic. The thing is, the target audience is composed of many of the same people who would be likely to try a poisonous product like F-Cup Cookies. There are a lot of insecure teenage girls who read celebrity gossip rags, People Magazine, and what have you. It's irresponsibility and pernicious negligence for those publications to promote garbage that preys on those insecurities. Melanie C, we may safely infer at this point, just isn't very bright, or maybe she's just getting paid to be a spokesperson. It should be incumbent on the publications that give this stupid, stupid promotion a forum amongst their readers to include a disclaimer that they don't endorse the use of such a product. In fact, they should make available within the article itself references to sources of information informing readers about the dangers linked to consumption of estrogens and trans-fats.

Or better yet, they shouldn't include the promotion at all. Why is it necessary to do so?

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