Could Lemon Juice be the Safest Bet against Human Noroviruses?

Recent research conducted at the German Cancer Research Center has revealed that citric acid from lemon juice could be the safest bet yet against the highly contagious norovirus, a very common pathogen that results in severe gastrointestinal infections.

In community settings like schools, hospitals or cruise ships, noroviruses are the most renowned cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks. The virus, which is extremely contagious, is most commonly transmitted through the "fecal-oral-route", i.e. via contaminated food or hands. Among its major symptoms include a sudden and highly violent onset of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

According to Grant Hansman, the leader of the CHS junior research group that was involved in this study at the German Cancer Research Center and the University of Heidelberg, there is a great need for a safe disinfectant against the human norovirus. Funding for the group comes from the CHS Foundation. Earlier studies had also indicated that fruit extracts like pomegranate or orange juice were also capable of lowering the infectivity levels of surrogate noroviruses.

The most recent research conducted in Germany was a follow-up of an earlier one at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers had discovered that citrate sourced from a commercial company was able to bind to the norovirus capsid protein. Dr Hansman, however, explains that scientists stumbled upon this discovery by chance, though it turns out to be quite interesting.

Since human noroviruses cannot grow in cell culture, the researchers used the so-called norovirus virus-like particles -- which have similar surface features as real viruses -- to test what impact increasing concentrations of citric buffer had. After citrate binding, a change of shape of the virus particles was observed. Furthermore, X-ray crystal structures were able to reveal that the citrate sourced from either lemon juice or citrate disinfectants exactly interacts at the particles’ binding pockets involved in the attaching to host ligands, the so called histo-blood group antigens.

These findings could be used to explain why citrate lowers the level of infectivity associated with noroviruses. Dr Hansman hypothesizes that a few drops of lemon juice could be used on contaminated food or even surfaces to prevent these viruses from being transmitted. In collaboration with his team, he now plans to do further investigation to determine if citric acid can be used to reduce the symptoms observed in patients who are already infected with noroviruses.


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Adnan Kubi

Adnan Kubi

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