News Sites Retract Story Claiming Tortillas Can Prevent HPV and Cancer

Still probably going to eat tacos, though, tbh.

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Mar 7 2019, 8:34pm

Photo: Juanmonino/Getty Images

Look, as a media person, I’m not going to scream the phrase “FAKE NEWS.” Instead, I’ll offer a kind reminder to vet what you’re reading, and to sadly burst the bubble that tortillas, as delicious and convenient as they are, are unfortunately not an STI-preventing or cancer-curing superfood. If you saw that claim on a news site this week and found yourself ready to run to Taco Bell for a Quesarito, maybe pause for a second.

On Tuesday, Telemundo picked up a supposed study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Telemundo had reported that there was allegedly a decreased risk of human papillomavirus—commonly known as HPV—transmission in people who ate corn tortillas. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting most sexually active people at some point in their lives, according to the CDC. While most cases of HPV resolve on their own without leading to further health problems, some strains have been proven to cause cervical cancer.

Eating tortillas as prevention sounds groundbreaking, of course, so the story was syndicated onto a whole bunch of local news affiliates from NBC New York to Washington, DC’s WJLA and Oregon’s KVAL, who wrote, “Fans of tacos, rejoice, because it seems tortillas may actually keep you healthy.” Versions of the story popped up all over the internet.

screenshot of now-deleted story on tortillas and hpv
Screenshot via KVAL (now deleted)
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Screenshot via Google

As of yesterday, however, the story had changed. Numerous outlets retracted the story, including NBC New York, which added a disclaimer to reflect the updates. It reads: “A story on the purported health benefits of corn tortillas for certain types of cancer has been withdrawn. The university that conducted the cancer research says it did not study any link with tortillas or corn products.” NBC's headline, which had presumably called tortillas a “secret weapon against HPV,” per the URL, now says “Editor’s Note: Tortillas / Cancer Story.”

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Screenshot via NBC New York
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Screenshot via NBC New York

Other news sites are also starting to strike it from the records, with many of the stories that were proclaiming tortillas an anti-HPV miracle just yesterday now resulting in error messages. Telemundo, which was cited as the source for all those reports, has also updated its story. Roughly translated, Telemundo’s piece now says, “The UNAM indicated that it does not corroborate such assertions, for which we present our regrets.” (MUNCHIES has reached out to UNAM for comment; we have not yet heard back.)

It’s still unclear where Telemundo’s conclusion came from, as the alleged study isn’t linked in any of the reports. For now, go ahead, get that Quesarito—just don’t expect it to be a stand-in for the HPV vaccine.

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