Have doctors warned people to avoid eating instant noodles because of the risk of cancer and strokes? No, that is not true: There are no medical studies linking instant noodles to cancer or strokes in humans. A story making this claim also included a video comparing how a human stomach digests instant noodles. The article said the video was "staggering" evidence of why you should not eat instant noodles, but if you watch to the end you will hear that the doctor who made the video did not recommend anyone stop eating them. In fact, the doctor said he knows of no health risks and he still eats instant noodles.
The claim originated from an article (archived here) where it was published by DailyHealthPost.com on May 20, 2019. The title social media users saw on the post read "Doctors Warn People To Avoid Instant Noodles Due To Cancer And Stroke Risks," while the headline on the website version of the story read "See What Happens Inside Your Body When You Eat Ramen Noodles." It opened:
Ever wondered what happens when you eat instant noodles? This story may make you think twice before downing a bowl of processed Ramen Noodles.
A video showing what happens inside the digestive tract after eating instant noodles has gone viral.
Instant noodles seem innocent, but they contain Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a byproduct of the petroleum industry and food additive frequently to preserve cheap processed foods.A gastrointestinal specialist, Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital conducted an experiment with a time-lapse video inside the stomach comparing both fresh and preserved instant noodles. After two hours of digestion, the results were staggering.
Watch the video below and you'll never eat instant noodles again.
This is what social media users saw:
Let's look first at the claim that if you watch the video "you'll never eat instant noodles again." That statement might be true with a inside-the-bowels video of any food digesting. It is never pretty. Fortunately, digestion is a process hidden from sight. This video was created by a doctor who used a pill-sized camera that was swallowed by someone who had previously eaten instant noodles. It was repeated with someone who had eaten non-instant noodles. A Boston television reporter interviewed the doctor, who said he was surprised how instant noodles took longer for the stomach to break down compared to the other noodles, but he knew of no health issues from instant noodles. The reporter noted that the doctor was not recommending anyone stop eating instant noodles and that he would continue to eat them himself.
Next, let's look at the claim that noodles can kill you through cancer or stroke. A section of the article titled "Why not Eat Instant Noodles: TBHQ Is Lethal in Small Doses" claims that scientific studies have shown that a preservative commonly used to extend the shelf-life of instant noodles -- Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) -- is deadly:
TBHQ, a byproduct of the petroleum industry, is often listed as an "antioxidant," but it's actually a synthetic chemical with antioxidant properties. The distinction here is important.
The chemical actually acts as a preservative by preventing the oxidation of fats and oils. That's why you'll find this ingredient in grocery store products and fast-food menu items. It's also present in varnishes, pesticides, cosmetics, and fragrances (1,2).
TBHQ is a legal food additive. In fact, a joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives determined that TBHQ was safe for human consumption at levels of 0-0.5 mg/kg of body weight (3).
The Codex Commission (an organization that sets international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice) set the maximum allowable limits of THBQ between 100 to as much as 400 mg/kg, depending on the food it's added to (4,5).
Some foods, like chewing gum, contain the highest allowable levels of TBHQ. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration requires that TBHQ must not exceed 0.02 percent of its oil and fat content, so low-fat foods can contain more of the additive (6).
Different organizations have different "safe" limits and exposure to five grams can be lethal, so it's best to avoid TBHQ as much as possible.
An extensive and peer-reviewed scientific study titled "NTP Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of t-Butylhydroquinone (CAS No. 1948-33-0) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F(1) Mice (Feed Studies)" concluded in 1997 came to a contrary conclusion:
Under the conditions of this long-term feed study, there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of t-butylhydroquinone in male or female F344/N rats exposed to 1,250, 2,500, or 5,000 ppm. Under the conditions of this 2-year feed study, there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of t-butylhydroquinone in male or female B6C3F(1) mice exposed to 1,250, 2,500, or 5,000 ppm. Exposure of rats to t-butylhydroquinone in feed resulted in decreased incidences of mammary gland neoplasms in males and females. Synonyms: Tert-butyl-hydroquinone; 2-(1,1-dimethylethyl)-1,4-benzenediol; 2-tert-butylhydroquinone; mono-tert-butylhydroquinone; tert-butyl-1,4-benzenediol: mono-tertiarybutylhydroquinone; 2-tert-butyl-1,4-benzenediol; 2-(1,1-dimethyl)hydroquinone; 2-(tert-butyl)-p-hydroquinone; TBHQ; MTBHQ Trade Names: Sustane; Tenox TBHQ; Banox 20BA.
The article also targets the chemical Benzopyrene as a cancer-causing ingredient. Yes, there is a mountain of scientific evidence to indict benzopyrene as a carcinogen. But, no, Benzoprene is not an ingredient allowed in food -- including instant noodles. The story points to a health scare in 2012, when benzopyrene was detected in a brand of Korean noodles. Those noodles were recalled because of the discovery. Your instant noodles should not have the chemical. You can read more about this on a South Korean government health report titled "Benzo[a]pyrene in Korean Instant Noodles."
NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes dailyhealthpost.com as:
A website that promotes false and misleading claims about "natural" health remedies, including unproven cures for cancer.
According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.
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