Infection and pH

Meridian Institute News Vol. 7 No. 3 May, 2003

pH-Dependent Viruses

   For over five years researchers at Meridian Institute have been looking into the connection between pH (acid/alkaline) balance and viral infection – a link noted by Edgar Cayce in several of his psychic readings. With the recent epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and continued concerns about common conditions such as colds and flu, our interest in this field has expanded to explore basic science and clinical projects to test the Cayce hypothesis.  Here is an overview of what we have found so far and where we are headed.  Some simple preventive measures will also be discussed. 

Understanding Viruses

    Viruses are extremely small parasitic life forms, the smallest living things on Earth. In essence, a virus is a minuscule pocket of protein that contains genetic material.

    Although viruses can remain dormant outside a living body, they only become active when in contact with live tissue. Once a virus infects a cell by penetrating the cell membrane, it can either lay dormant (lysogenic infection) or begin reproducing itself (lytic infection – the more common pattern).  When a cell becomes full of virus, it bursts releasing the virus to infect other host cells.

    A wide variety of diseases are caused by viruses including the common cold, flu, warts, measles, hepatitis, herpes, smallpox, and AIDS.  SARS is just the latest in a long list of viral parasites.

    Unlike bacteria that can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics, viral infections are often unresponsive to modern medical treatment.  If the virus causing a disease has been discovered, a serum may be developed to provide inoculation against that specific virus.  The most common approach to virus protection is to avoid contamination by infected individuals. 
 Viral pH Dependency

    Laboratory experiments (in vitro) have confirmed that many viruses require a mildly acidic environment to attack host cells.  At Meridian Institute we are interested in determining exactly how this physiological fact manifests within the human body (in vivo). Understanding the role of pH balance in viral infections may provide preventive and therapeutic breakthroughs for dealing with epidemics including the recent outbreak of SARS.

    To appreciate the relevance of pH for viral infection, let’s first review some facts about acid/alkaline balance.  The acid/alkaline continuum ranges from 0-14 with 7 as neutral. The lower end of the scale (below 7) is acid and above 7 is alkaline.

    Acid/alkaline balance is extremely important to normal physiology. For example, the blood will maintain a slightly alkaline range of 7.35 to 7.45. Extended pH imbalances of any kind are not well tolerated by the body. The management of the pH factor is so important that the body’s primary regulatory systems (especially breathing, circulation, and eliminations) closely regulate acid-alkaline balance in every cell and system.

    Certain viruses (including the rhinoviruses and coronaviruses that are most often responsible for the common cold and influenza viruses that produce flu) infect host cells by fusion with cellular membranes at low pH.  Thus they are classified as “pH-dependent viruses.”

    Drugs that increase intracellular pH (alkalinity within the cell) have been shown to decrease infectivity of pH-dependent viruses.  Since such drugs can provoke negative side effects, the obvious question is whether more natural techniques can produce the same result. 
 Possible Relevance to SARS
    The World Health Organization has concluded that SARS is produced by a new virulent strain of coronavirus. Specific research on the possible pH dependency of the SARS virus has not yet been done.  It is well known that coronavirus infectivity is exquisitely sensitive to pH.  For example, the MHV-A59 strain of coronavirus is quite stable at pH 6.0 (acidic) but becomes rapidly and irreversibly inactivated by brief treatment at pH 8.0 (alkaline).  Human coronavirus strain 229E is maximally infective at pH 6.0.  Infection of cells by murine coronavirus A59 at pH 6.0 (acidic) rather than pH 7.0 (neutral) yields a tenfold increase in the infectivity of the virus.

    If the strain of coronavirus responsible for SARS shares the pH characteristics of these other coronaviruses that are pH-dependent, this could be a valuable clue to effective prevention and treatment strategies for this frightening epidemic. Perhaps keeping a balanced or slightly alkaline pH environment for the body’s tissues can provide viral protection or enhanced healing for SARS and common viral agents that cause respiratory infections. 
 Edgar Cayce’s Recommendations
    Edgar Cayce affirmed the importance of pH balance with regard to common viruses that cause colds and flu.  Cayce repeatedly insisted that such infectious agents do not thrive in an alkaline environment. When asked how to prevent colds, Cayce replied, “by keeping the body alkaline. Only in acids do colds attack the body.” (3248-1)

    Cayce recommended using litmus paper to test the pH of urine and saliva as an indication of the pH balance of the body.  We now have more precise means for monitoring pH in the form of pH paper and digital pH meters.

    As a practical preventive measure, Cayce’s suggestions for alkalizing the body emphasized eating an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially salads:   “…  if an alkalinity is maintained in the system – especially with lettuce, carrots and celery, these in the blood supply will maintain such a condition as to immunize a person.”  (480-19)  Consuming citrus fruit and juices was also a common alkalizing suggestion in the readings that addressed concerns about cold and flu infections. 
 Meridian Institute Research
    We reported a preliminary study on dietary effects of urine pH in January 1999 (Vol 3 No 1). The study was done to test Edgar Cayce’s recommendations for testing urine as a marker for systemic pH balance.  Our conclusion was that following Cayce dietary recommendations of eating primarily alkaline-producing foods (such as fruits and vegetables) does indeed tend to alkalize the urine.

    We have contacted leading researchers in the field of rhinovirus infection studies to make them aware of the possible role of acid/alkaline balance and seek feedback on how to do scientific studies to test the Cayce hypothesis in vivo – with human subjects.  If it turns out that SARS is produced by a pH-dependent coronavirus, we will certainly make sure that the clinical researchers who do in vivo studies of viral infections are made aware of this potentially important factor.

    Rhinovirus infection studies are done at several leading universities, usually to test the effectiveness of drugs that may help to prevent or relieve the symptoms of colds.  Small amounts of solution containing rhinovirus are dropped into the noses of subjects to intentionally infect them under controlled conditions.  Interestingly, about five to fifteen percent of subjects do not get colds even when the virus is carefully placed onto the nasal mucosa.  Could it be that the pH of the resistant subject’s nasal mucosa is alkaline (or neutral), preventing the rhinovirus from infecting the cells inside of the nose?

    There have been several published studies on nasal mucosal pH with varying results.  Some researchers have concluded that the pH of nasal secretions vary with sleep, rest, ingestion of food, emotional states, and menstrual cycles.  Other scientists, using different technology, have failed to confirm these results.  Clearly much work needs to be done in this area to establish consistent outcomes.

    We have tested equipment from two of the leading companies that sell devices that can measure nasal pH and have learned that there is significant variability in the instruments, apart from the complexities of measuring pH in different people and within the same person over time.

    The picture on page 1 shows a pH sensitive microelectrode that we are currently using to measure nasal mucosa pH.  The device was developed for insertion through the nose and down into the esophagus in acid reflux patients.  Since the system is already FDA approved for measuring pH in humans by insertion via the nasal cavity, it is ideally suited for our purposes.  This particular model seems to be more sensitive and accurate than one we tested from another leading supplier of this type of instrument.

    So far we have done a series of nasal mucosa pH measurements on two individuals.  One of the notable outcomes from our preliminary efforts in this area is that psychological stress can have profound effects on nasal mucosa pH, causing a major drop (acidification) in pH. We will be doing more work with nasal mucosal pH with additional subjects to determine the possible relevance of this measure with regard to upper respiratory viral infection.  We are also hoping to be able to do a collaborative study with established researchers who regularly conduct in vivo studies involving intentional infection with rhinovirus (the “common cold”) to explore the possible connection between life-style factors (such as diet) and the infectivity of pH-dependent viruses. 

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