Bali Belly and Raspberry Cordial

This is a transcript of The World Today broadcast at 12:10 AEST on local radio (This as ABC radio)

Rasberry juice used to fight off stomach infections

The World Today - Wednesday, March  21, 2001  12:28

COMPERE: Well, let's take a good news story for a bit of a change.

One of the most common but serious afflictions in young children, gastroenteritis, could be prevented with simple raspberry juice, it seems.

That's the remarkable discovery from a chance overhearing of a conversation in a cafe in southern New South Wales. The conversation led to laboratory experiments at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga campus, which show apparently that a range of common stomach bugs such as e-coli are actually killed off by raspberry juice or raspberry juice cordial diluted to as low as 10 per cent strength.

Human trials are now being planned to try and prove that routinely drinking raspberry juice could act as a preventative against outbreaks of stomach infections in places like schools amongst children, or for children and adults whilst travelling.

This morning I spoke to the leader of the research team, Dr Heather Cavanagh.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: This was based on a coffee room conversation regarding the anecdotal use of raspberry cordial by local farmers when I first arrived in Australia. And I have to admit I thought they were pulling my leg. I thought it was like the five o'clock wave in Wagga. However once they had started talking about it, people from Queensland started telling me that they recommend holiday-makers use raspberry cordial. People from Perth starting telling me that the local pig farms use it. And it seems to be just widespread throughout Australia.

COMPERE: I believe the budgerigar breeders have it on their website that young budgies should be fed this.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: Yes. The Budgerigar Council of Victoria on their website recommend that "adding a few drops of raspberry cordial will help keep your budgies' water clean and bacteria-free" is the quote.

Obviously the belief in it is very strong. One raspberry cordial manufacturer has actually gone as far as producing a powdered raspberry drink powder - a powdered raspberry drink so that it's much easier for the farmers to add to the drinking troughs and into the water.

COMPERE: Now, you've done some laboratory experiments which tend to back up this folk medicine.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: Yes, without doubt. We have tested in the laboratory the activity of this raspberry cordial down to a one-in-10 dilution, which is much weaker than the manufacturers recommend, and we've found that it will kill the common food borne pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. It's also very effective on stapharius mycobacterium, which is one of the causes of TB [Tuberculosis] and clostridium, which is a common source of wind infection.

We are very interested in taking it on into clinical trial, and we're also very interested in looking at the effect on parasites like giardia, to know if things like the Sydney outbreak a couple of years ago can in fact be helped by raspberry cordial.

COMPERE: This of course has a very serious side because gastroenteritis, as I mentioned in the lead, is one of the most common baby afflictions. Not only that. In the developing world it's one of the most common killers.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: I mean, I have to qualify this by saying that we have no idea of the effect on people once you actually have the infection. I mean, that's something we would very much like to look at.

At the moment all we can really say is that having the raspberry cordial in the water when you're drinking it is much more likely to reduce your chance of picking up gastroenteritis. So at the moment we're looking at it as a kind of preventative. However, clinical trials may show that in fact it can be used as a treatment.

COMPERE: Well, certainly prevention is better than cure always.

At what strength must you use this? I mean, obviously you can't have it really diluted.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: No. The maximum strength that it's effective is one-in-10. However, using it at the manufacturers' recommended strength, which is one plus four, so, one in five, is perfect. That will keep your water clean.

COMPERE: But presumably you'd also have to buy a cordial that's got a fair amount of raspberry juice in it.

HEATHER CAVANAGH: Yes. You must buy the cordials that have at least 35 per cent raspberry juice.

COMPERE: What about pure raspberry juice? Is that even better?

HEATHER CAVANAGH: Yes. It works just as well. There's no problem with the raspberry juice. And obviously that's where the activity is coming from, because the results of using pure raspberry juice mimic the cordial exactly.

If there's a tummy bug at school and perhaps you want to give them that extra chance of not catching it, raspberry cordial may be the way to go.

COMPERE: It certainly is. Raspberry cordial - the miracle.

Well, Dr Heather Cavanagh is a lecturer in biomedical science at Charles Sturt University, Wagga.