Don't swallow everything you read.
Today’s Daily Express front page shouted, ‘RHUBARB CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE’. But the claim turns out to be rubbish.
The newspaper asserted that an ingredient in rhubarb called parietin, “contains an ingredient that speedily kills cancer”. In just two days the substance, “had killed half the leukaemia cells in a culture.”
And the newspaper report added, “It is now hoped that the common pudding vegetable could be a game changer in the fight against several forms of cancer.” Scientists “plan to use the potent substance to create new drugs.”
But there are several problems with this story… and as usual, the truth is at the back-end of the Express article on page 9, rather than on their front page. (Which is why I always suggest that this newspaper’s stories should be read, literally, back-to-front).
The story’s last paragraph quoted Dr Hayley Frend of Cancer Research UK, who sensibly put the rhubarb in its rightful place (in custard).
Dr Frend said, “Cancer drugs have come from surprising natural sources but these are very early studies. Even if it’s proven that parietin can treat cancer in people, it’s unlikely anyone could eat enough rhubarb to get the benefits. You need to concentrate the parietin.”
When I phoned Cancer Research UK, their press office agreed with me that these types of stories just raise ‘false hopes’.
The research into parietin – an orange pigment found in lichens as well as rhubarb – was undertaken by Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, USA. But so far, they have only tested high-concentration doses of parietin in culture dishes and in mice.
No human trials have yet taken place, so nobody knows yet whether the substance could successfully work as a treatment for cancer in people, let alone whether it’s safe.
As the university researches pointed out, “More toxicology studies are needed, both to assess potential side effects and to see whether people with inherited conditions would be more sensitive to the drugs. Parietin is present in some natural food pigments, but has not been tested as a drug in humans.”
The online headline of this Daily Express rhubarb story claimed, ‘Cancer-killing drug made of rhubarb will be ready ‘within years’.
But the truth is that even if parietin can be made into a drug (and at this stage nobody knows), it usually takes at least a decade to find out if a new drug will work and be safe. Only 1 in 5,000 new drugs ever make it to the market place.
So, the Daily Express rhubarb story is, really, complete rubbish. There is no proof that rhubarb can save anyone’s life.
An ingredient in plants such as rhubarb and lichens might one day be turned into a drug that could treat cancer, but such a drug doesn’t yet exist, it’s never been tested on people, nobody yet knows if it might be effective or safe, and even if it might be, it would take at least a decade until it’s available.
From past experience, the chances that such a drug might one day become available is extremely low.
*According to the Urban Dictionary ‘rhubarb’ means, ‘Complete and utter bollocks.’ i.e. “Stop talking rhubarb.”
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More #rhubarb rubbish from the #DailyExpress. (Don't swallow what you read). My latest blog: https://t.co/2CeO5TyOcc pic.twitter.com/qLmSSdHp2L— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) October 20, 2015
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