Recently a social media post has been circulating urging people to eat alkaline food with pH level that is higher than SARS-CoV-2, including lemon, lime, avocado and garlic, among others.
The post cites the “Journal of Virology & Antiviral Research” and states: “This is to inform us all that the pH for coronavirus varies from 5.5 to 8.5. All we need to do, to beat coronavirus, we need to take more of an alkaline foods that are above the pH level of the virus.” We asked experts:
“Does eating alkaline foods help beat COVID-19?“
Professor Dr Lee Yeong Yeh, Gastroenterologist at the School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said:
“This is absolutely false. Eating alkaline foods do not alter pH in human cells or the virus. Alkaline diet, typically vegetables and fruits, provides potassium and magnesium in addition to fibres and prebiotic properties. However, the diet won’t affect cellular pH since pH is highly regulated by the cellular system. Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, depends on cellular pH to reproduce. Certain drugs may affect cellular pH and therefore help in killing the virus but diet does not. Furthermore, the foods described in the rumour were not exactly alkaline. It is more important to eat healthy and balanced foods, and by doing so, it will help the body immunity.”
Associate Prof. Dr Chan Yoke Fun, Virologist & Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, said:
“There isn’t much research to support them. Fenton and Huang in their paper in BMJ Open reviewed 8278 citations and 252 abstracts. They concluded that there is almost no actual research to either support or disprove the benefits of alkaline water. The health claims about alkaline water are more about sales than science. Promotion of alkaline diet and alkaline water to the public for cancer prevention or treatment is not justified.
Our human body is wonderfully made. Organs that help to regulate the pH include kidney, lung and stomach. If there’s an imbalance in your pH level, our body will correct it. When the alkaline water you drink hits your stomach, the acids in our gut neutralize it. If your blood becomes too acidic, you will breathe out more carbon dioxide. The kidneys are also able to excrete excess acid in your urine. Therefore, alkaline water cannot alter the body’s natural pH level. SARS-CoV-2 is extremely stable at pH 3 to 10 and will not be readily destroyed at those pH. Therefore, if we are infected, the virus will still multiply despite what pH of food or water you consume.
Fenton TR, Huang T. Systematic review of the association between dietary acid load, alkaline water and cancer. BMJ Open 2016;6: e010438. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2015-010438
Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2666-5247(20)30003-3
Upon checking the study which the rumour allegedly quoted from “Journal of Virology & Antiviral Research” – we found that the research dates back to 1991. It was published in the Journal of Virology with the title ‘Alteration of the pH Dependence of Coronavirus-Induced Cell Fusion: Effect of Mutations in the Spike Glycoprotein’.
However, the research made no mention of the novel coronavirus. Instead, the abstract of the study refers to the coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus type 4 (MHV4). Furthermore, COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus which was not even known in the 1990s and had only come to light at the start of the pandemic in December 2019.
Bionotes of experts
Associate Prof. Dr. Chan Yoke Fun is a virologist focused on the epidemiology and pathogenesis of enterovirus A71, an emerging virus that causes severe neurological disease. She leads a laboratory with research interests in epidemiology and pathogenesis of emerging viruses such as enterovirus A71, chikungunya, and respiratory viruses. Dr. Chan also served as an Associate Editor of BMC Infectious Diseases and guest editor in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. She has multiple joint publications with collaborators from Asia, Europe, and the USA. With more than 20 years of research experience, she has over 80 publications, her studies have led to a better understanding of how viruses spread and infect humans.
Professor Dr Lee Yeong Yeh is a clinician who specializes in internal medicine and gastroenterology and also a scientist with research interests in the function and diseases of the gut. He is also the editor for BMC Gastroenterology, Journal of Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, PeerJ and Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences.
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