Can Lemons Cure Cancer?

The Truth Behind the Hoax

Basket Of Lemons
Tom Kelley / Getty Images

A viral email hoax, circulating since 2011, claims that the humble lemon is a "miraculous product" that kills cancer cells and has been proven to be "10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy."

While lemons contain compounds that may possess anti-carcinogenic properties, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the fruits are any kind of miracle cure.

Viral Claims

The bold claim that lemons can not only cure cancer but are many times more effective than chemotherapy first appeared in a chain email in 2011. The text was highly enthusiastic:

This plant is a proven remedy against cancers of all types. Some say it is very useful in all variants of cancer. It is considered also as an anti microbial spectrum against bacterial infections and fungi, effective against internal parasites and worms, it regulates blood pressure which is too high and an antidepressant, combats stress and nervous disorders.

The email went on to say that "one of the largest drug manufacturers in the world" had been testing lemon extracts for several decades and had found that the citrus product "destroys malignant cells in 12 cancers, including colon, breast, prostate, lung and pancreas." Furthermore, it said that the lemon extract was capable of doing this miracle work without "affect[ing] healthy cells."

While it's true that scientific studies have shown that lemons and other citrus fruits contain compounds that may help fight cancer, there's nothing in the medical literature to support these wildly exaggerated claims. The idea that lemons are "a proven remedy against cancers of all types," or that lemons are "10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy," is simply not true.

There is also no evidence that these claims originated from "one of the largest drug manufacturers in the world."

The Science of Citrus

Several substances occurring naturally in citrus fruits have been found to have cancer-fighting potential, the most promising of which are limonoids and pectin.

Limonoids, a class of natural compounds found mainly in the skin and seeds of citrus fruits, are being studied as both a preventative and a treatment for cancer. For example, research has shown that particular limonoids can inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells in vitro. Further research is needed, however, to determine their clinical effectiveness in human beings.

Modified citrus pectin, derived from the natural pectin found in the pulp and peel of citrus fruits, has been shown in animal and in vitro studies to reduce the metastasization of cancer cells. Again, further research is needed to prove the clinical effectiveness of citrus pectin in humans.

It goes without saying that lemons and other citrus fruits are nutritious and health-promoting in myriad ways, so while the jury may still be out on exactly how and to what extent they're effective in preventing and treating cancer, they should certainly be regarded as an essential component of any healthy diet.


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