for National Geographic News
Lime and lemon juice could be potent weapons in the fight against AIDS in the developing world, some experts are suggesting.
The potency of these citrus fruits lies in their acidic nature, and in the lab their juices have been shown to be effective in killing the HIV virus, explained Roger Short, a reproductive biologist at Australia's University of Melbourne.
This property, Short points out, could be a boon in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with 25 million current HIV infections, and another three million new ones reported each year.
(See a National Geographic magazine feature on AIDS in Africa.)
Short says that flushing the vagina or washing the penis with lemon or lime juice just after sex could significantly reduce new infections.
Most scientists seem to agree that citric acid can kill the HIV virus. But critics warn that the treatment could be potentially harmful at high concentrations, whereas lower concentrations may not strong enough to be effective.
"Both lime and lemon juice have been used as a contraceptive in the Mediterranean region for almost 300 years and [are] also commonly used in many parts of Africa," Short said.
"HIV infections are very high in some of the poorest regions in the world, where people live on less than two [U.S.] dollars a day. Yet in the supermarkets of Cape Town, [South Africa], you could get five large lemons for the price of one condom," he added.
Short's research appears in the May 29 issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
AIDS and Toxic Juice?
Despite its promise as a preventive for new HIV infections, some experts say that the juice might be painful to the user and may even be unsafe.
For his preclinical trial, Short tested the safety of the technique by placing cotton balls soaked in undiluted lime juice in the vaginas of six female monkeys.
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