[FACT OR FAKE #84] Does Eating Whole Lemons Really Help Cure Skin Cancer?

Lots of people have lots of different theories about what really cures cancer, one of which is eating whole lemons or lemon peels. So, your weekly SAYS' FACT OR FAKE columnist Sadho sets out to search the deep web to find the truth behind this widely popular claim.

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If you've a few Facebook friends, chances are you've probably heard of this widely popular claim that eating whole lemons prevents cancer. Published on the website Natural News, which seems like a parody but is unfortunately quite serious, which regularly publishes many other just as, if not more, silly claims.

So, getting straight to the point, does eating whole lemons really cure skin cancer. How much of this claim is FACT OR FAKE?

In order to dissect the fact from fake, we will need determine the origin of such a claim, which first started with this email in 2011:

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While the email about the supposed cancer-curing properties of lemons was originally circulated with a tag line suggesting that it had been issued by Baltimore's Health Sciences Institute, it has denied any connection to the piece, as per a report by Snopes

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Legitimate scientific studies have shown that compounds in citrus may be beneficial in combating certain types of cancer. Thus, the message may have a grain of truth. However, it is nonetheless very misleading and inaccurate. Moreover, the information does not come from a credible scientific source. As this Slate piece notes:

The author cites two medical journal articles. She badly mischaracterizes the first, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 1999. The study described the isolation of three compounds, known as coumarins, from lemon peel. Coumarins exhibit tumor-suppressing properties in a laboratory dish, but that does not mean that eating lemon peel prevents cancer.

Even if the oral ingestion of coumarins were convincingly shown to fight cancer in a laboratory animal, we still wouldn’t know how much lemon peel would be required for a human to experience the same effects or whether you could tolerate the dose.

The second study the author cites is an enormous overreach. No one enjoys biostatistics, but bear with me and you’ll be better prepared to identify weak studies in the future. The study, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 2000, purported to show a correlation between consumption of lemon peel and diminished cancer risk.

The authors surveyed 242 skin cancer survivors and 228 controls about their citrus consumption habits, but the questionnaire wasn’t externally validated and has some screwy definitions. (Eating citrus peel “often,” for example, is defined as “50-75 percent of the time.” What does that mean?) The authors did not adequately control for race or skin tone, which is an important variable in skin cancer studies.

The sample size was much too small. Only 163 of the 470 study participants reported eating citrus peel, and just 28 of them admitted to eating citrus peel often. That’s not enough to prove that eating lemon peel prevents skin cancer.

FAKE: Thus, the message contains unproven, unsupported and exaggerated claims about lemon as a cancer remedy and should not be considered a valid scientific report on the subject

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No reputable scientific or medical studies have reported that lemons have definitively been found to be a "proven remedy against cancers of all types," nor has any of the (conveniently unnamed) "world's largest drug manufacturers" reported discovering that lemons are "10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy" and that their ingestion can "destroy malignant [cancer] cells." All of those claims are hyperbole and exaggeration not supported by facts.

That said, it is, however, true in a general sense that lemons (and citrus fruits) do provide a number of useful nutritional and health benefits, as described in the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods:

About, the site which is run by self proclaimed "health ranger" Mike Adams, feeds conspiracy theories and publishes articles on alternative medicines. In sort, the site is simply not credible. It's filled with claims that vaccines are evil and HIV does not cause AIDS, among several such horrible claims.

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