How it was told
You know Nasa. They’re behind so many scientific achievements: putting a man on the moon, pioneering the space shuttle and, erm, discovering that pineapple plants can stop people snoring.
The last one sticks out a bit but that hasn’t stopped it occasionally cropping up on the news agenda over the years.
Last week The Sun and The Mirror, as well as a host of local newspapers, carried a story based on the supposed research. The Sun opted for the headline: “POT IT TO BED: This £10 plant from Morrisons could stop your partner snoring – according to Nasa” while The Mirror opted for “Morrisons is selling a plant Nasa says can stop your partner’s snoring – and it’s only £10” and linked back to The Sun’s piece. The story even attracted the attention of ITV daytime mainstay Loose Women.
It’s not the first time that the story has appeared – take, for example, the rash of stories in July that plugged the plant’s availability in Asda rather than Morrisons.
The Sun were at it again with an almost identical headline that even repeated the same pun. The Daily Record also reported the story, as did the Daily Express under the headline: “Stop snoring: Can this plant really stop you snoring at night? Nasa says YES”.
But surely there isn’t another example, you say? Wrong. In November 2017 Metro and Mail Online both reported that pineapple plants were available from Asda for the steeper price of £12. They asked: “Can THIS house plant stop you snoring? Nasa scientists recommend sleeping with a quirky £12 flower to improve your breathing at night”.
But is it true?
It’s completely false and the journey to find where the stories come from could be one for Nasa themselves.
It’s baffling that none of the national news outlets bothered to check for the original research carried out by Nasa, because they’ll find that there is no evidence of a pineapple plant, or any other plant for that matter, helping to prevent snoring.
However, freelance space journalist Jonathan O’Callaghan did. He tweeted Asda’s customer service team back in 2017 and was told that there were two reports behind the claim. One was from Nasa – “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution and Abatement”, published in September 1989. The other was published by the American Chemical Society, “Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air”, in August 2016.
Both support claims that house plants improve air quality by removing pollutants from the air. Trouble is that neither tested the pineapple plant – or Ananas comosus under its Latin name – or its impact on snoring or sleep.
But how did such a misunderstanding come into common knowledge? It was a hoax, according to Nasa. Syndicated US talk show The Doctors contacted the space agency in 2018 to get their verdict and the response was a firm rebuttal: “We’re not aware of any Nasa research that has studied pineapple plants as a cure for snoring. Unfortunately, we routinely get pulled into internet hoaxes which can detract and distract the public from learning about the real and amazing research Nasa does and discoveries we make.”
That hasn’t stopped the story from being touted around the UK news agenda twice since or even being used in the product’s marketing on Asda’s website, which still reads in the description: “Several studies showed that the pineapple/Ananas is one of the most purifying plants by night and strongly improves the air quality and contributes to a better sleeping quality by a deeper sleep and reduction of sleep apnoea or some snoring symptoms.”
Even the air quality claim has been called into question – according to a study review by academics Bryan Cummings and Michael Waring published last year – and the snoring claim definitely isn’t right.
The NHS says that snoring is caused by things in your airways, like your tongue, mouth or throat, vibrating as you breathe. There’s no way a house plant could have an impact on that.
Illustration: Miles Cole