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Asthmatics Warned About Cooking - Sensationalism in Academic Publications

Asthmatics Warned About Cooking - Sensationalism in Academic Publications


In today's society, we are regularly subjected to bold declarations and urgent warnings designed to elicit a reaction. This culture of fear-mongering, used to maximize viewership by casting a shadow of danger, is prevalent. It manifests in the sensational headlines of mainstream news outlets cautioning against drugged Halloween candy and in the startling claims by Instagram influencers suggesting that cold water can cause cancer. Unsurprising and unwanted, sensationalism is becoming more prevalent in academic publications.

A recent study published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology titled "Airway and systemic biomarkers of health effects after short-term exposure to indoor ultrafine particles from cooking and candles – A randomized controlled double-blind crossover study among mild asthmatic subjects"posits that exposure to indoor cooking and candles significantly raises the levels of both oxidatively damaged DNA and some lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in blood. The aim of the study is to draw attention to the potential hazards associated with ultrafine particles (UFPs) derived from indoor activities, especially vis-à-vis individuals with prevailing respiratory ailments.

The study design was notably stringent; it subjected participating subjects—mild asthmatics—to realistic inhalation exposure conditions mimicking particulate matter from cooking smoke and candle fumes. Systemic biomarkers then gauged the biological response. During the process, an observed increase in airway inflammation surfaced following exposure to candle fumes and cooking smoke, albeit without indicating a significant systemic response.

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While awareness and curiosity towards potentially harmful daily activities are indeed crucial, the way such information gets presented and the conclusions formed are equally significant. The study, though scientifically sound, acknowledges limitations in its methodology. For instance, the results could differ drastically if they examined different candle types or burning methods. However, isn't this an essential consideration before positing generalized statements about 'cooking' as a potentially harmful activity?

Strikingly, this study generalizes 'cooking' based solely on the oven-roasting of pork breast. Considering the vast assortment of cooking methods, ingredients, and tools, this seems like a significant oversight. The emissions from boiling pasta, for instance, cannot be compared with those from searing a steak. Ingredients can also react differently depending on the temperature and cooking method. Oils have different smoking points, herbs cooked at different times can either burn or add bright flavor. Likewise, emissions differ depending on whether the cooking occurs in a gas or electric oven—or, indeed, in the variety of gas ovens, considering the varying gasket seals and ventilation mechanisms in use.

This study, while shedding light on potential risks for those with respiratory conditions, does need additional research before it lays claim to generalized statements about 'cooking.' The study even fails to properly list the ingredients, and equipment used for the oven-roast pork. Only by examining a larger population, along with a more comprehensive array of cooking methodologies, tools, and ingredients, will we be able to substantiate such claims. 


With the overwhelming information on the internet and the already over-abundant sensationalism in journalism, it is already hard enough to find important news and findings. Not everyone knows how to dig through the methodology and statistics, instead relying on the title and abstract. Researchers should be clear with the facts and limitations of the study while avoiding generalized claims that reach beyond the scope of the study not only with the title, but throughout their paper. Until such time, this study solely serves to examine the short-term exposure to a specific oven-roasted pork dish in a controlled environment with candle fumes.






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