An elderly man wearing a face mask sits on a bench in Seoul on March 20, 2019. (AFP / Ed Jones)

Facebook posts falsely tout plant extract as cure for cancer and dementia

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

Multiple Facebook posts claim that butterbur -- a plant extract sometimes used for medicinal purposes -- is effective in curing dementia and cancer. The claim is false. Butterbur is not a cure for cancer, according to medical experts. Separately, South Korea's Central Dementia Centre said the plant extract cannot cure dementia.

The claim was shared on Facebook on April 10, 2021.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on April 15, 2021.

"Most effective for all types of cancer. I never knew butterbur was this great. It is also a cure for dementia," reads the Korean-language claim.

Butterbur is a shrub that grows in Europe and parts of Asia and North America, according to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH).

It can be an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis, migraine and asthma, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The claim was shared alongside a link to a post on South Korean online forum Daum Cafe.

The post on Daum cafe reads in part: “Butterbur is the best cure for cancer and anti-inflammatory medicine... It is effective to cure all types of cancer... Butterbur has a particular smell, which goes into the human brain to prevent and cure dementia.”

The lengthy post also contains general tips about how to cook butterbur.

A similar claim was shared on Facebook here, here and here

 The claim, however, is false.

Cancer warning

Although it may have some medicinal properties, there is no credible scientific evidence that butterbur can cure cancer, health experts say.

In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns butterbur could actually contain cancer-causing chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). 

“PAs can damage the liver, lungs, and blood circulation, and possibly cause cancer. Only butterbur products that have been processed to remove PAs and are labelled or certified as PA-free should be considered for use,” it says here on its website.

Kim Kye-jin, Korean Medicine Doctor at Seoul-based Four Seasons Korean Medicine Clinic, said ingesting butterbur alone “cannot cure cancer”.

“Korean Medicine Doctors mix different ingredients when making medicine to treat cancer patients based on their condition and the result of diagnosis. If someone claims to have overcome cancer just with butterbur, it’s highly likely to be a lie,” Kim told AFP during a phone interview on April 15, 2021.

Dementia treatment

 The World Health Organization states here there is currently no “cure” for dementia, although new treatments “are being investigated in various stages of clinical trials”.

An official at South Korea's Central Dementia Center told AFP on April 7, 2021 that there is not a single food or medicine that can currently cure dementia.

“Treatment and medication vary depending on the type of dementia,” the official said.

The Korean Association for Dementia notes on its website: “Dementia patients have different symptoms depending on the cause and course. Therefore, the cure and treatment are also different. It requires access through individualised plans and treatment for each patient since cognitive function, physical function and social function deteriorate at different rates.”