Monday, February 27, 2012

Gargling With Listerine Works!

Wash Away Airborne Microbes Before They Infect You!

© 2009-2012 Stephen Kent Stephenson, sks23@cornell.edu. All rights reserved.

Advertisement in Popular Science, February 1932.
Popular Science, February 1932
Never having seen any ads like this, a few years ago I independently started to gargle with Cool Mint Listerine. When I start to feel a tickle or burning in my throat, I reach for the Listerine and gargle multiple times until the tickle or burning, and spit-up mucous clumps, go away. I went from many colds every winter, including a couple of deep lung infections, to almost none, and the few I do get are considerably less severe.

So I believe in the results the ad claims. But my conjecture is NOT that these results are primarily due to any antiseptic properties of Listerine, but rather to the cleansing action in removing accumulating mucous and entrained microbes from the throat and lower nasal cavity (more thoughts below). Because of that, in an effort to improve the results, I sometimes use saline nasal spray before I gargle with Listerine (a Neti pot could be useful, too).

I've tried gargling with both saline solutions and ethyl alcohol (vodka or whiskey) but the results (clumps of mucous in the spit) are much less favorable. There must be something in Listerine that cuts away or frees the mucous from the throat tissues.

Since my experiences corroborate the ad claims, why doesn't the manufacturer of Listerine continue these kinds of ads? Potential reasons:

1. After prolonged use there were some deleterious effects, but I have never heard of any. Besides, using Listerine as only a mouth wash as currently advertised would probably have the same deleterious effects. So I don't think this is the reason.

2. The taste of the original Listerine was so bad nobody wanted to use it anyway. Well, maybe, but in that time period people regularly "enjoyed" Horehound Drops and Moxie Soda, so I don't think taste was a deterrent to gargling with Listerine.

3. Gargling with Listerine is so effective that that use would seriously and negatively impact the company's ability to market multitudes of other cold and flu remedies that are much more profitable.

My money is on 3.

-Steve

P.S.: In 2008-2009, with the advent of "Swine Flu", health organizations and the media constantly recommended that we wash our hands frequently to prevent the spread of flu and colds. Surgeons scrub their hands before surgery. Doctors do the same before and after examining a patient. See http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing/ and http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/en/.

These actions DO NOT kill any microbes, especially viruses. But the washing DOES remove the microbes before they infect tissues.

This, I think, is the action of gargling with Listerine. It removes the microbes before they have a chance to infect the tissues.

Also, a cold is caused by the infection of the tissues by a virus. But many of the uncomfortable symptoms of a cold are caused not by the virus, but by secondary infections of bacteria that are incubated in the warm excess mucous the virus induces the tissues to excrete. Gargling with Listerine removes the excess mucous and the microbes living and reproducing in it, reducing or eliminating the symptoms caused by them.

Facing the threat of losing thousands of lives to "Swine Flu", et al, every Fall and Winter because attempts at making an effective vaccine in sufficient quantities is unsuccessful, wouldn't it make sense to hedge our bets by gargling with Listerine?

Further, why doesn't the US Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization do more research on how to prevent diseases along these lines and develop more low cost and/or home made products like Listerine? The pharmaceutical industry has VERY LITTLE MOTIVE to do so BECAUSE they MAKE MUCH LESS MONEY by PREVENTING or CURING diseases, they MAKE MUCH MORE MONEY by TREATING diseases.

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N.B.: On July 25, 2009, I posted a comment on the web that contained a link to the first version of this post.