VERA FILES FACT CHECK: A high-alkaline diet DOES NOT ‘defeat’ COVID-19

Over 2,200 netizens on Facebook (FB) have shared a photo of a printed flier claiming that eating food with high alkaline content can “defeat” COVID-19. It recommended several fruits and vegetables supposedly “more alkaline” or “above the pH level” of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the disease.

The information is inaccurate.

“Viruses themselves do not have pH levels, because they are not water-based solutions,” a group of health experts convened by international nonprofit organization Meedan stated in their COVID-19 Expert Database website.

According to Oxford University’s Lexico, a solution is considered water-based if its “medium or main ingredient” is water. The pH scale is used to determine if a water-based solution is acidic (pH level of below 7), neutral (pH level of 7), or basic, oftentimes called alkaline (pH level of above 7).

Eating more alkaline food does not affect blood pH but may affect a person’s saliva and urine pH levels, said Meedan’s team of experts. However, “these changes are variable from person to person and will not prevent or cure COVID-19.”

Maria Carmela Taob, a faculty member of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition (DFSN) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, shared a similar sentiment. In an email to VERA Files, she said: “There is no evidence to support the claim that alkalizing food can cure coronavirus patients.”

Taob explained that a food’s designation -- whether acidic, neutral, or alkaline -- is based on the ash it leaves behind after being combusted under laboratory conditions.

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and grains produce “acid-ash,” while most fruits and vegetables except for prunes, plums, and cranberries generate “alkaline-ash.” Coffee, tea, certain sweets, fats, and starches are considered neutral.

The flier, which listed seven fruits, garlic, dandelion, and turmeric tea, assigned wrong pH level to each food, ranging from 7.4 to 22.7.

In an April 5 FB post, Benelyn Dumelod, an associate professor from UP DFSN, disputed this, saying the maximum pH value of any “food or nonfood, living or nonliving” is 14.

Below is a comparison of the foods’ pH values as declared in the flier, against their correct pH values according to several sources including Dumelod. None were alkaline, or had a pH level between 7.1 and 14.

Both Taob and the experts at Meedan pointed out that a well-balanced diet -- including the consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables -- can help support one’s immune system.

Taob, however, stressed that preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus relies heavily on “physical distancing, wearing masks, frequent handwashing, general hygiene, environmental sanitation, and physical activity.”

As far as the World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned, there is still no drug or vaccine proven to cure or prevent one from acquiring COVID-19. Clinical trials, however, are currently being performed in several parts of the world.

The viral flier, which bore the title “Goodbye Corona Virus!”, also made false claims on what a person should do on a daily basis to be able to defeat the virus, advising the consumption of eggs and Vitamin C and E, getting sunlight in the morning, and drinking warm water daily.

In an email to VERA Files, WHO Philippines said that “consuming eggs, exposure to sunlight, warm meals and vitamins daily do not kill the coronavirus.”

The symptoms listed in the flier indicating “if a person has COVID-19” are also misleading. While dry cough and fever are listed by WHO as common symptoms of the disease, sore throat and the loss of the sense of smell and taste are “less common” and may affect some patients only.

Shortness of breath, on the other hand, is developed by “seriously-ill” individuals, which is just around one of every five COVID-19 patients, added the WHO’s list of symptoms.

The earliest retrievable online copy of the flier carrying the false claims was uploaded last April 16 on Twitter. It got over 41,000 retweets and 53,700 likes, and has received comments from netizens pointing out the disinformation.

However, posts bearing the claims about alkalizing foods have been circulating since March in both FB and private messaging application WhatsApp, as shown by fact check articles of Africa Check, the Associated Press, and the Agence France-Presse.

They appear to have twisted the contents of a 1991 study published in the Journal of Virology that looked into coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus type 4 (MHV4), and not the SARS-CoV-2.

The false flier was published as original content by at least five netizens on FB from June 17 to 22, and continues to be shared this July. The posts surfaced a day before the total recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassed the eight million mark, and the same day the Philippines’ own number of cases reached over 27,000.

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

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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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