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Beware false cancer cures from ‘Dr Gupta’ on Facebook

This article is more than 5 years old

A long-lived internet hoax offering fake cancer remedies is now viral on Facebook.

It generally begins with this false statement: “Dr Gupta says, No one must die of cancer except out of carelessness.” A recent post, from 4 January 2019, has been shared almost 123,000 times so far.

The post says “research by Maryland College of Medicine” has found that cancer will “disappear” if patients stop eating sugar, drink lemon juice before meals for three months and take spoonfuls of coconut oil morning and night.

It also includes 20 other general health recommendations by “Dr Guruprasad Reddy” of “Osh State Medical University in Russia”.

And it always ends by asking users to share it widely. Many do, including on a Kenyan Facebook group with close to 2 million members.

The doctors can’t be found

A reverse image search for the photo of “Dr Gupta” used in the post only returns results related to the post. And a search for “Dr. Guruprasad Reddy B V”, again, only gives results from the claim. Another search, for Osh State Medical University, does bring up a real university – in Kyrgyzstan, not Russia.

Finally, a search for “Maryland College of Medicine” only returns results for the University of Maryland in Baltimore in the US. While the university was founded in 1807 as the Maryland College of Medicine, it was rechartered as the University of Maryland in 1812. The university has a school of medicine with a centre for cancer research.

Does sugar help cancer spread?

“The idea that sugar is responsible for kick-starting or fuelling a cancer’s growth is an oversimplification of some complicated biology,” says an article on Cancer Research UK.

“Cancer cells usually grow quickly, multiplying at a fast rate, which takes a lot of energy. This means they need lots of glucose. Cancer cells also need lots of other nutrients too, such as amino acids and fats; it’s not just sugar they crave.”

Does cutting out sugar cure cancer?

The article adds that while it’s sensible to avoid sugary foods as part of a healthy diet, there is no evidence that stopping all sugar intake will stop or prevent cancer.

“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple,” it says.

Healthy cells also need glucose, and “there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to cancer cells”. It adds that there’s “no evidence” that a sugar-free diet lowers the risk of cancer, or “boosts the chances of surviving if you are diagnosed”.

Lemon does not cure cancer

The post claims blending a whole lemon in a cup of hot water and drinking the mixture for one to three months would make cancer “disappear” and that this “cure” was “1,000 times better than chemotherapy”.

Fact-checking sites Hoaxslayer and Snopes have looked into this and found it to be false. So too has the US National Centre for Health Research.

“Lemons are not a ‘proven remedy against cancers of all types,’ and no studies have ever been done that would compare the effectiveness of a lemon to chemotherapy,” the centre says.

A 2017 study of all previous research on the “anticancer potential of citrus juices and their extracts” concluded that there wasn’t enough data from clinical studies to support the claim that lemons prevent cancer.

“Despite the large body of evidence of pre-clinical studies showing citrus juices’ anticancer effect, a current limitation for its antitumor employment is that clinical studies are only a few and their results were obtained through self-assessed tests on patients,” the study says.

A report by Cancer Research UK says that while citrus fruit do have important anti-cancer properties, there is no evidence they can cure cancer – as the Facebook post claims.

This is supported by a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences report on the hoax.

“The myth significantly exaggerates the potential of lemons and lemon juice as a cancer remedy,” it says.

“The beneficial compounds in lemon juice have shown promise in recent studies, but the levels found in foods may only enhance the body’s ability to fight off cancer. In the end, there is no proven scientific replacement for radiation therapy or chemotherapy.”

Coconut oil and cancer?

The post also claims that taking three spoonfuls of organic coconut oil, morning and night, would again make cancer “disappear”.

Some studies show that virgin coconut oil can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, and lauric acid – a component of coconut oil – has been found to inhibit the growth colon cancer cells. But there is no evidence that coconut oil cures cancer.

The American Society for Nutrition has warned that coconut oil is not a miracle food with magical cure-all properties.

‘Statements in the claim not validated through research’

Africa Check asked the National Cancer Institute of Kenya to review the claims made in the Facebook post. Dr Alfred Karagu, the institute’s CEO, said the claims have never been proven.

“The statements contained in the attached post have not been validated through any research. It's important to note that there are more than 200 known types of cancers whose causation is multifactorial,” he told Africa Check.

“It is therefore untrue to claim that abstaining from or consuming one product or the other is the solution to preventing cancer.”

Dr Catherine Nyongesa, director of The Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi, agreed. After reviewing the claims she labelled them as “myths” and said there was currently insufficient evidence to prove any of them. - Dancan Bwire (09/04/19)

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