Sri Lankan social media users shared a recipe for the purported cancer remedy as the island nation's hospitals suffered under the strain of an unprecedented economic crisis. ( AFP / -)

Sri Lankan social media users share false herbal 'cancer cure' as economic crisis hits hospitals

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As Sri Lanka's public healthcare system faced growing pressure amidst an unprecedented economic crisis, social media users in the island nation claimed that a "miracle porridge" could "kill cancer cells". The posts -- shared hundreds of times -- advised people to drink the purported remedy on an empty stomach. But Sri Lankan oncology specialists and indigenous medicine practitioners warned there was no scientific evidence that it can cure cancer.  

A recipe for the "miracle porridge that kills cancer cells" was published in this Facebook post on September 9, 2022. It has been shared more than 150 times.

The post's Sinhala-language caption translates to English as: "Please share as much as possible. May all cancer patients heal and recover."

The purported recipe reads: "Add cinnamon, garlic, curry leaves into a pot with one cup of coconut milk and bring to a simmer while stirring it.

"Then, add the juice of katupila leaves and water into the porridge, and drink it on an empty stomach."

Flueggea leucopyrus Willd., known as katupila in Sri Lanka, is a herb used in indigenous and ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on September 13, 2022

The claim circulated online as the island nation's universal healthcare system, once the envy of its South Asian neighbours, buckled under the strain of an unprecedented economic crisis. 

Supplies of surgery equipment and life-saving drugs have been almost exhausted, while chronic petrol shortages have left both patients and doctors unable to travel for treatment, AFP reported.

The same image was shared almost 100 times alongside a similar claim in Facebook posts published here, here and here

In response to the posts, however, oncologists and indigenous medicine experts said there was no single substance that has been proven to cure cancer. 

'No scientific evidence'

Commenting on the porridge recipe being touted as a cancer cure, Dr Nuradh Joseph, consultant oncologist and vice chair of the Sri Lanka Cancer Research Group, told AFP: "There is no credible, scientific evidence to prove this claim."

He said that although katupila has been touted as a cancer cure since at least 2009, he had not witnessed a patient who was "cured" with it. 

"In fact, combining this herb together with western treatment regiments or relying on this treatment alone can have detrimental impacts on a patient," he said. 

Other health experts in the Asia-Pacific region have previously told AFP that cancer patients should rely on proven treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiotherapy. 

"There is no one substance yet discovered in the world that can be used to cure all forms of cancer," Professor Myung Seung-kwon from the National Cancer Centre of South Korea said.

"Cancer is treated through a variety of proven methods, including through chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy, among others".

Indigenous medicine

Dr L. P. A. Karunathilake, a senior lecturer of indigenous medicine at the University of Colombo, told AFP there is no "one-size-fits-all" remedy for cancer patients. 

"A patient diagnosed with cancer cannot simply drink this porridge and expect to be rid of cancer," he said. 

He went on to say that healthy people should not drink the porridge remedy as it could result in other health complications. 

"This herb is used in a paste form most commonly, and there will be no benefit for a healthy person to drink the juice of its leaves," he said. "The prolonged use [of this remedy] could result in various side effects if used by a healthy person."

In the Asia-Pacific region, AFP has debunked other misleading posts touting various herbal remedies as "cures" for cancer, including here, here and here.