COVID-19 Watch FACT CHECK Health

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB page endorsing ‘potential natural remedy’ vs COVID-19 MISLEADS

A Facebook (FB) post by an ear, nose and throat doctor about a potential natural treatment for COVID-19 is misleading.

On Feb. 28, Dr. Harold Tanchanco uploaded a collage showing a screengrab of an Aug. 18, 2020 7NEWS Australia report titled, “Breakthrough treatment: Could pineapples be the key to a COVID-19 cure?” The collage included a photo of the doctor and two images of a pineapple health drink he is endorsing.

Branding it as “another potential natural remedy” against COVID-19, Tanchanco wrote in his caption, “Pineapple extract (Bromelain) can dissolve Corona viruses’ spike proteins according to an Australian Scientist.”

His post paints an incomplete picture of the findings from a study featured in the Australian news report. The promotion for his health drink also misleads.

Tanchanco does not name the Australian scientist but a look into the 7NEWS story would identify him to be University of New South Wales professor and surgeon David Morris, who told VERA Files Fact Check that consuming pineapple products will not have an influence on SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus.

“We do not advocate drinking pineapple drinks! This will not work,” Morris said in an email to VERA Files.

Morris explained that for his team’s research, bromelain — an enzyme derived from pineapples — was paired with the drug acetylcysteine to negatively affect SARS-CoV-2.

“We studied the effect of bromelain which is derived from the stem of the pineapple plant together with acetylcysteine. We were able to show disruption of the spike protein,” said Morris.

“Neither agent is effective alone,” he added.

Tanchanco’s FB page, however, only mentions bromelain in its post.

The SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein is important for its replication. It allows the virus to bind to protein receptors in healthy cells — “like a key being inserted into a lock,” said medical experts in the United States — and infect them. These protein receptors are present in the nose, mouth, and lungs, among other parts of the body.

The 2020 study by Morris and five other researchers, which has not yet been peer-reviewed and was conducted in vitro or in labware, observed that the virus’s spike protein can be “disintegrated” using a combination of bromelain and acetylcysteine (which they called BromAc) and found that it may render the virus “non-infective.”

Administration of the BromAc solution through a nasal spray is currently being tested in animals and humans, Morris said.

Bromelain has been used to reduce inflammation, treat blood clots, and clean burns. Meanwhile, acetylcysteine has been used as an antiviral agent and for thinning out mucus.

In the About section of the Tanchanco FB page, the doctor identifies himself as an “endorser of First Vitaplus Health Products,” which is the brand of the heath drink featured in the collage.

FB page Dr. Harold Tanchanco’s misleading FB post surfaced the same day the country received 600,000 doses of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine. It garnered a total of 268 reactions, 74 comments, and 323 shares on the platform.

The FB page was created in March 2019.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)