Fake News: Teenager Does NOT Die Of Stomach Cancer After Eating Instant Noodles Every Day

Fact Check

  • by: Eric Ferkenhoff
Fake News: Teenager Does NOT Die Of Stomach Cancer After Eating Instant Noodles Every Day

Did a Taiwanese teenager die of stomach cancer after eating instant noodles every day? No, that's not true: There is no medical research drawing a direct link between daily consumption of instant ramen noodles and cancer. The story making they claim gave no details, including the name of the teen, the year it supposedly happened, or the university to the deceased teen attended. The only name given was that of a doctor who purportedly treated the teen, however, there is no online record of such a doctor, except in the several versions of this false story.

The story originated from an article (archived here) where it was published by PinoyNewz.com on Dec. 13, 2019, under the title "Teenager Dies of Stomach Cancer After Eating Instant Noodles Every Day". It opened:

Instant noodles are cheap, quick, and easy to make, but what you don't know is that they are also potentially harmful to your digestive health.

Taiwan has been shaken by news of an exemplary, hardworking university student who died recently from stomach cancer...

As his symptoms worsened, his family took him to a hospital for a check-up.

The diagnosis was absolutely gutting because he had stage four stomach cancer, and his chances of pulling through were extremely slim.

After a year of battling the disease, the boy with a bright academic future succumbed to the disease.

Users on social media only saw this image, thumbnail and text:

The most recent story, which is currently circulating on the internet, is a copy-and-paste job of stories published in 2018. None of the previous versions offered any details, other than to claim that a Taiwan website site had previously reported it. We have been unable to locate that story.

The story plays off fears of Terriary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many animal fats that are edible. Meanwhile, the rumor that instant noodles can cause cancer has been tied to the ingredient monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is the main "flavor enhancer" of all processed food in Asia, according to Vice, which attributes much of their information to Della Rachmadia Annur, a nutritionist at the Prawijaya Women and Children's Hospital:

So is MSG bad for your health? Not at all. The US Food and Drug Administration said that MSG was safe for consumption--and this is in a country that is so afraid of MSG that Chinese takeouts routinely advertise "NO MSG" on their menus. In the 1960s, when Chinese food was first spreading across the United States, diners started to complain that all the MSG was causing numbness and headaches. The press quickly dubbed the phenomenon "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" but, in reality, there was no such thing.

And MSG itself isn't always an additive. It's naturally found in cheese and tomatoes. MSG is a chemical in the same way that water and oxygens are chemicals, according to an expert quoted by the Guardian. Today, MSG is often used as a "supersalt"--an additive that gives food umami instead of just saltiness...

"Instant noodles can trigger cancer cells to be active, but so does all processed food--stuff like corned beef and chicken nuggets," Della told me. "Both the noodles and the packets of flavoring contain preservatives, which means that they contain a large amount of sodium. Instant noodles can be dangerous for people who already have diabetes or high blood pressure, but it definitely does not directly cause cancer, especially on its own."

There has been some research studies done tying "instant noodle consumption...with cardiometabolic risk factors among college students in Seoul. The study states:

Increased consumption of instant noodles has recently been reported to be positively associated with obesity and cardiometabolic syndrome in South Korea, which has the highest per capita instant noodle consumption worldwide. This study aimed to investigate the association between instant noodle consumption and cardiometabolic risk factors among college students in Seoul.

Lead Stories investigated a similar claim on Nov. 16, 2019, debunking claims that doctors were warning people to steer clear of instant noodles because of their supposed risk for causing cancer and strokes. The Lead Stories article can be found here:

Fake News: Doctors Do NOT Warn People To Avoid Instant Noodles Due to Cancer and Stroke Risks

  Eric Ferkenhoff

Eric Ferkenhoff has been a reporter, editor and professor for 27 years, working chiefly out of the Midwest and now the South. Focusing on the criminal and juvenile justice systems, education and politics, Ferkenhoff has won several journalistic and academic awards and helped start a fact-checking project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he continues to teach advanced reporting. Ferkenhoff also writes and edits for the juvenile justice site JJIE.org.


Read more about or contact Eric Ferkenhoff

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