Lemon grass (Cymbopogun citratus) and lemon (Citrus limon) in treating HIV infection

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African researchers have validated the use of lemon grass (Cymbopogun citratus) and lemon (Citrus limon) in treating opportunistic infections in people living with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.

RESEARCHERS from the Adelaide Tambo School of Nursing Science, Tshwane University of Technology, Staatsartillerie Road, Pretoria-West, South Africa have validated the use of lemon grass in treating thrush in people living with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

They concluded: “Though the patient population was small, the use of lemon grass for the treatment of oral candidiasis in an HIV population was validated by the randomised controlled trial.”

The study titled: “Treatment of oral thrush in HIV/AIDS patients with lemon juice and lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and gentian violet,” was published in Phytomedicine.

Commonly called lemon grass, Cymbopogon citratus belongs to the plant family Graminae. To the French it is citronelle, citronella in Portuguese. In Nigeria the Edos call it eti, Efik, ikon eti, Hausa, tsauri, Ibibio, myoyaka makara, Igbo (Owerri), achara ehi and Yoruba, kooko oba.

According to the researchers, the purpose of the study was to investigate the safety and efficacy of lemon juice and lemon grass in the treatment of oral thrush in HIV/AIDS patients when compared with the control group using gentian violet aqueous solution 0.5 per cent.

Oral thrush is a frequent complication of HIV infection. In the Moretele Hospice, due to financial constraints, the treatment routinely given to patients with oral thrush is either lemon juice directly into the mouth or a lemon grass infusion made from lemon grass grown and dried at the hospice.

These two remedies have been found to be efficacious and are therefore used extensively. Gentian violet, the first line medication for oral thrush in South Africa, is not preferred by the primary health clinic patients due to the visible purple stain, which leads them to being stigmatized as HIV-positive. Cymbopogon citratus and Citrus limon (lemon) have known antifungal properties.

The study design was a randomised controlled trial. 90 patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups: gentian violet, lemon juice or lemon grass. Inclusion criteria included being HIV-positive with a diagnosis of oral thrush. The study period was 11 days and patients were followed up every second day. International ethical principles were adhered to during the study.

The results showed that of the 90 patients, 83 completed the study. In the analysis of the participants who actually completed the trial, the lemon juice showed better results than the gentian violet aqueous solution 0.5 per cent in the treatment of oral thrush in an HIV-positive population.

Previous study by Australian scientist showed that lemon juice kills the AIDS virus in the lab but was to be tested on humans in Thailand. University of Melbourne’s Professor Roger Short made the discovery after he realised acids killed the virus.

When he put lemon juice in a test tube with HIV-positive sperm, the sperm were permanently immobilised within 30 seconds. Experiments also showed a solution of 20 per cent lemon juice reduced viral loads in the lab by 90 per cent. The lemon juice also killed syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

Officials at the international AIDS conference in Bangkok announced the first human trial. Thai women taking part in the test will soak a sponge in lemon juice and insert it before sex.

However, some studies disagree on safety of lemon juice against HIV. Potentially contradictory findings on whether lemon and lime-juice could safely protect women from HIV infection if they apply it to their vaginas was presented at an international conference.

Researchers from the CONRAD programme at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, United States presented evidence that lemon or lime juice can damage the cells of the vagina.

Another U.S.-based team, from the University of Berkeley, suggested however that lime juice was safe if it was used in low concentrations.

Historical documents show that through the centuries, women have used acidic solutions such as vinegar as a contraceptive.

But in the past few decades, research has suggested that the acidic juice of lemons and limes could also function as a microbicide – a product that women apply to their vaginas to protect themselves from HIV infection.

Studies show that this practice is already common among sex workers in Nigeria, and anecdotal evidence suggests it also takes place in other African countries.

But the safety and efficacy of using lime juice has not yet been proven scientifically, and some researchers are concerned that women could begin using lemon and lime juice with potentially harmful effects.

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