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Not #healthyliving: Why these City of Joburg tweets are nonsense

The Johannesburg local government in South Africa has started tweeting “healthy living” tips to its sizable audience. Here are two instances where it should have rather stuck to providing information about municipal matters.

Researched by Alphonce Shiundu & Julie Bourdin

Known for its quips and humorous tweets, the City of Joburg’s content on Twitter regularly brings a smile to many of its 438,000 followers.

Besides providing information about municipal matters like water interruptions and roadworks, the social media team has recently started tweeting #healthyliving tips.

Most seem to be recycled from other internet pages. Here’s why two of the tweets – as voted to be fact-checked by our readers – do not constitute sound health advice.

#Healthyliving tip: Visit Snopes or Hoaxslayer when you come across health advice online to avoid being duped. Or send us a suggestion to fact-check it!

Claim

Putting a slice of lemon in your water alkalises and cleanses your liver.

Verdict

incorrect

The lemon idea is a myth, the Association of Dietetics in South Africa told Africa Check

Johannesburg-based spokesman Lila Bruk, who is a registered dietitian, said the human body is well-equipped with organs that maintain its pH levels. (pH refers to the scale on which acid and alkaline levels are measured. When acidity increases, pH levels fall. An increase in alkaline causes pH levels to rise.)

“Our bodies are highly skilled at maintaining a constant pH hence rendering the concept of needing to eat certain foods to alkalise our bodies both unnecessary and scientifically unfounded,” Bruk told us in an email.

Faith Kariuki Biongo, who writes a weekly column in Kenya’s print media, told Africa Check that it “is vital for health and survival that the pH of the blood remains constant. Fluctuation in the pH of blood can make body cells stop working properly which can lead to death. Diet doesn’t affect the blood’s pH.”

Biongo explained that your body maintains its pH level through a process called acid-base homoeostasis.

“There is no diet, food or drink that can automatically cleanse or detoxify the body or any body organ,” she added. “The body and its organs have natural systems of removing waste: the liver, skin, urinary system and gastrointestinal tract are continuously helping cleanse the body through sweat, urine and faeces.”

“The liver removes waste and toxins from the blood. Any waste the liver cannot use is converted and carried out by bile into the small intestines or by blood to the kidneys where the kidney eliminates them through urine,” Biongo said.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea to drink water with a slice of lemon. Taking in enough water daily is essential to help circulate oxygen and nutrients more efficiently to cells.

Bruk told us that adding lemon may make the water “more palatable and thus may make it easier to drink enough water”. – Alphonce Shiundu

Claim

Drinking water at the correct times maximises its effectiveness on the human body.

Verdict

incorrect

This “healthy living” advice has been circulating on the internet for at least 7 years and has been debunked by various organisations, including the University of Washington and the hoax-busting websites Snopes and Hoax Slayer.

  • The claim that water after waking up “helps activate internal organs” is meaningless: our “internal organs” are constantly active in order to keep the body alive,
  • “One glass before a meal” would have minimal effect, as the body is already efficient in producing fluids for digestion. At most, water can make swallowing food easier, a director at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr Braden Kuo, told Boston.com.
  • Drinking “a glass before a shower” is not cited by the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation nor the Southern Africa Hypertension Society as preventative of high blood pressure.
  • The claim that water before bed “helps prevent strokes and heart attacks” has no scientific basis. Staying hydrated is generally good for the heart and the entire body, but a glass before sleep might at most force you to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

A senior lecturer in the division of human nutrition at the University of Cape Town, Marjanne Senekal, told Africa Check “there is no scientific evidence to support these claims” shared by the City of Joburg.

She reminded us that it is important to keep your body hydrated by drinking between 7 and 11 glasses of water throughout the day.

Distributing misleading medical advice can be dangerous. A dietitian at the Nutrition Information Centre at the University of Stellenbosch, Irene Labuschagne, warned against spreading such false hope.

“A patient suffering from hypertension may be at risk if it is believed that one simple intervention such as a glass of water before a shower may improve the dangerous health concern,” Labuschagne told Africa Check, adding that drinking lots of water “will not cure all sorts of diseases”. – Julie Bourdin

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