Sunday, March 1, 2009

Win the Battle of Man vs. Virus with Gargling!

The dreaded flu season is upon us again. The battle wages against the common cold. Along with the icy temperatures and the wind chill, we all need to protect ourselves from these wintry, viral foes.

The best protection against any virus is a strong immune system derived from a balanced diet and regular hand washing. A lesser known strategy for stopping cold and flu viruses is simply gargling on a daily basis. In a 2005 article, referencing a Japanese study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, gargling with water helped to prevent the common cold by 36%.

Some American researchers discount these Japanese findings as improbable due to the placebo effect, since study participants knew that gargling was part of the study. The placebo effect can influence the findings of scientific studies if participants' expectations affect the results. However, Kazunari Satomura, MD, PhD, from the University of Kyoto in Japan, the lead researcher on the 2005 gargling study states "that the results show in this study the placebo effect plays only a small role, [because] we explained to the participants at the beginning of the study that there is no scientific evidence on the prevention of common colds by gargling.” Many Japanese people practice gargling for the prevention of colds, but the common belief is that gargling with a substance like diluted iodine or green tea is the main preventer, not merely water.

A similar study on gargling with green tea, from another Japanese study in 2006, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, that the effectiveness of flu vaccine given to the elderly was enhanced by gargling with green tea. More studies are needed to verify the effectiveness of gargling with green tea in relation to flu prevention in general, but the findings seem to point to the strengthening properties of the, substances found in green tea, known for their antioxidant properties.

The simple act of daily gargling may help in prevention of colds and the flu. The hypothesis is that gargling cleanses the mouth and throat of bacteria and chlorine in the water helps to kill the bacteria. Certainly, this inexpensive health habit should be studied further.

Medscape, an informational website for health professionals, concludes “for now, the regular use of gargling seems as legitimate as other more commonly used means to prevent the common cold.” For more information on prevention of the common cold and influenza see for the American Lung Association's “Cold and Flu Guidelines”.

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