Barley drink promoted online in the Philippines does not 'cure' diseases: experts

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Social media users in the Philippines have repeatedly shared posts that falsely promote a barley grass drink as a cure for multiple medical conditions, including cancer and AIDS, saying it has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Health experts told AFP that while barley is a supplement that has some health benefits, it cannot cure or treat diseases unrelated to the digestive system. Keyword searches on the FDA's website found no registration for the product.

A set of photos featuring a product named "Green Barley with tropical fruit powder juice drink mix" was posted on Facebook on November 19.

Its Tagalog caption translates in part as: "Are you looking for a proven and effective organic product with approved therapeutic claims?"

"There is only one such product. Green Barley is 100% Pure Organic Powder Juice from Utah, USA. So many patients have been cured, proving that the natural way is safer and more effective," the caption says.

"So many barley products are circulating right now because they're trying to imitate this but what sets it apart? HealthWealth Green Barley has approved therapeutic claims from the US FDA. That's why you won't see the phrase "no approved therapeutic claims" on the bottle."

The post goes on to list 19 medical conditions the drink can purportedly treat serious illnesses including AIDS, cancer, kidney problems and diabetes.

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) can develop in people infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which is treated with antiretroviral therapy.

Screenshot of misleading post taken on November 23, 2022.

Other posts promoting the drink were published on Facebook here,here, and here.

However, health experts warned that the product was not proven to treat or cure serious diseases.

'High-risk food product'

While the United States FDA has endorsed some food products as capable of reducing "the risk of a disease or health-related condition", green barley is not among them.

Multiple keyword searches on the agency's databases here, here and here also did not find any registration or endorsement for the drink "green barley".

The Philippines' own FDA listed the product as a "high-risk food product" in an advisory issued on September 24, 2019.

Dr Joseph Gancia, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine at the Healthdev Integrative Clinics in Manila, said that the social media posts were misleading.

"Barley grass is just a supplement to an existing treatment for digestive issues. But it's not even the first thing I recommend to a patient," he told AFP.

"Barley grass may be beneficial for digestive issues because it is rich in fibre," he went on to say. "But there is no evidence it can help with the rest, especially cancer and AIDS. I don't know why they made those exaggerated claims."

Jo Sebastian, a registered nutritionist based in the Philippines, also said that while barley has many health benefits, it cannot cure all diseases. "Generally, we can't say one single food can be the cure for something," she told AFP.

Ferdinand De Guzman, a former spokesman for the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, said the claims in the social media posts appeared to be a marketing ploy to promote the drink as an immune booster.

"They seem to target vulnerable groups of patients who would try anything to treat their disease," he said. "They are pushing it as a miracle drug, a cure-all drug to provide hope for the immunocompromised. But it needs to undergo clinical trials before it can say that."