Last week, a story went viral in which a writer detailed her experience with gastroenteritis (sometimes called the stomach flu). Her daughter woke up puking a week before Christmas, so she asked her Facebook friends if there was any way she could prevent the stomach flu from spreading to her. The Internet had an answer: grape juice.
The idea, which has actually been circling the interweb for a while, is that if you drink three glasses of grape juice after you know you’ve been exposed to a stomach bug—but before you have any symptoms—you will be spared the joy of having your head in the toilet for the next few days. The writer tried and said it worked—she didn’t get sick.
Could it be that simple? If your kid is puking all over the place, can you simply down a few cups of grape juice to prevent catching whatever she’s got? And should you pass your kid some Welch’s if she’s feeling fine, but someone at school or daycare threw up that day?
We decided to investigate. Because if it’s true, it’s a TOTAL. GAME. CHANGER.
The science behind the idea, we found, is that the grape juice works by changing the pH in your intestinal tract to inhibit the virus. On top of that, the juice apparently also contains anti-viral chemicals.
Snopes, a trusted website that counters urban legend with legitimate research, quickly dismisses the first theory—that the grape juice changes the pH to inhibit the virus—arguing that the pH levels in the digestive process are so varied and the virus survives them, so there’s no way the grape juice could change the pH enough to affect the virus.
As for the anti-viral claim: It appears there’s a hint of scientific plausibility here. A 1970s report suggests polyphenols in the skin of grapes could bind to viral proteins and reduce their infectivity. But—and this is a big but—the research was done in a test tube, not in humans, and later research showed the anti-viral properties of grapes was likely temporary, anyway.
Not the news we were hoping for. But we weren’t ready to give up. So we checked in with Toronto paediatrician Dina Kulik, who writes smart, no-nonsense health columns for Today’s Parent. We hoped she could at least back up the validity of this trick with some anecdotal evidence, based on years of treating sick kids.
But no. She calls the idea “nonsensical,” adding that there is no evidence that any food or drink can prevent the illness. “I don’t recommend any juice for kids at all actually,” she adds.
If you want to prevent a stomach bug, Kulik says the best thing you and your kids can do is wash your hands frequently.