BBC has reported on the dangerous affliction hitting Taiwan—the chewing of Betel Nuts, which is believed to be responsible for its oral-cancer epidemic.
The deadly habit has been around for centuries in Taiwan, and is especially popular with blue-collar workers for its stimulating effect—the tiny nut gives the same buzz as six cups of coffee.
The Taiwanese government is now seeking to curb the prevalence of the Betel Nut due to its dangerous side-effects. Consumers of the nut are easily spotted by their red-stained lips and teeth, but it is the link between Betel Nut chewing and serious illness which is more worrying than the vampire-like appearance it causes. 80 to 90 percent of the 5,400 men who are diagnosed with oral cancer or lesions in Taiwan admit to chewing Betel Nuts. It is highly likely the custom of chewing Betel Nuts (also regarded as a cure for indigestion and impotence) has contributed to Taiwan ranking in the world’s top three for incidence of and mortality rate from oral cancer.
The innocuous looking nut is harvested from the Areca palm and can be eaten dried, fresh, or in a ‘quid’—wrapped up in Betel leaf and mixed with slaked lime, cardamom, cinnamon and tobacco. Indeed, it is this combination which exacerbates the danger, since all of these ingredients are also known cancer-causing carcinogens.
The Taiwanese government has responded by providing free programs aimed at convincing people to quit Betel Nuts, as well as offering incentives to Betel Nut farmers to cut down their Betel palms and grow other crops. However, Betel Buts still remain legal.
This is not the first time a popular snack has been found to cause cancer in Taiwan: millions of packets of contaminated dried fruit and fruit juice were recalled in 2011 once it was revealed they could cause cancer as well as liver and kidney damage.
Disconcertingly-high rates of cancer have also been reported on mainland China, with a 2014 survey revealing that one in 60 Shanghai residents had been diagnosed with cancer.