Can a Simple Mouth Gargle Protect Against Viruses?

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Over the last few decades, our society has become more and more reliant upon, and trusting of, the pharmaceutical industry. This monumental change in attitude is truly astonishing to me.

Many people are convinced that there’s a drug solution for practically every physical and mental complaint. The pharmaceutical industry has accomplished this brainwashing through massive advertising campaigns, paid celebrity endorsements, targeted “research” funding to universities, control of medical publications, and financial incentives geared to influence physicians.

Now that life is “better through chemistry,” many of the tried-and-true health remedies of the past are labeled as quackery, dangerous, misinformation—or even worse, they are simply forgotten. With the current focus on viral respiratory infections such as COVID-19, one such “old school” remedy that comes to mind is gargling.

An Age-Old Remedy

Gargling is an age-old remedy that was used by the ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese. During my childhood years, we used to ease a sore throat with a simple mouth gargle of warm saltwater. It was not only effective, but commonplace. That no longer seems to be the case for most US households. Japan, however, is an exception.

In Japan, mouth gargles are routinely used to prevent upper respiratory infections and influenza-related illnesses. In fact, Japanese researchers have performed numerous clinical trials testing the effects of gargling with just water, as well as compounds like green tea and diluted povidone-iodine (PVP-I).

Surprisingly, it appears that gargling water alone may reduce specific proteases (enzymes) in the oral and nasal cavities that help trigger a viral infection. (This may be due to the presence of chlorine in drinking water, which could be inactivating viruses.)

Gargling’s Effect on Viruses

Newer research into the effects of gargling has been inspired by the COVID pandemic. Testing has involved gargling with ingredients like PVP-I, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexidine, and various essential oils. Yet, research shows that the most effective gargling ingredient is PVP-I.

In one study, 20 asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19 patients were tested using four different mouth gargle ingredients.

  • Group one gargled with 10 milliliters of 1% PVP-I for 30 seconds three times a day.
  • Group two followed the same routine and gargled with 20 milliliters of a popular mouthwash.
  • Group three followed the same routine using 100 milliliters of tap water.
  • Group four were untreated controls.

On day four, 100% of those who used the PVP-I had completely cleared the virus. Clearing also occurred in 80% of the mouthwash group, 40% of the tap water group, and 20% of the control group.

You probably won’t be hearing much about the benefits of gargling with PVP-I for the same reasons many health remedies don’t get publicized these days. It’s not a prescription item, it’s readily available, it’s inexpensive, it’s safe, and it works.

PVP-I has been proven to be a broad-spectrum microbiocide with decades of research data to support its ability to decontaminate wounds and kill harmful bacteria and viruses on contact. It can perform these feats without triggering antimicrobial resistance or altering beneficial microbes in the gut or elsewhere.

Researchers recently working with COVID-19 have demonstrated that dilute concentrations of PVP-I can:

  • Decrease viral RNA quantification,
  • Decrease infectious viral titers,
  • Decrease active virus in the mouth and respiratory droplets,
  • Speed viral clearance, and
  • Protect against infection.

Rinsing/gargling with a diluted version of over-the-counter PVP-I can kill viruses like SARS CoV-2 and prevent transmission in as little as 15 seconds. It can also be helpful in speeding up recovery after contracting the infection.

A few years ago, Japanese researchers found that children who regularly rinsed or gargled before and after school experienced fewer absences and missed days of school due to colds, flu, and other viral infections.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut Health tested three different diluted concentrations of PVP-I (1.5%, 1%, and 0.5%) at three different contact times (15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 45 seconds). They found that the 0.5% concentration at the lowest contact period of 15 seconds was enough to completely inactivate SARS CoV-2 in the laboratory.

How to Make a PVP-I Solution & Gargle at Home

Some companies sell a povidone-iodine mouthwash. However, it’s far less expensive to simply dilute your own using the 10% concentration PVP-I that is used as a wound antiseptic. A 16-ounce bottle is less than $10 and is readily available over the counter at most stores.

This iodine is not for internal consumption. It’s for rinsing and gargling only and when used this way, is effective and safe.

Gargle for a minimum of 30 seconds. Do not swallow; spit it out. Doing this three times a day is what’s recommended (right after brushing in the morning, after lunch, and before bedtime).

The recommended 0.5% solution for gargling can easily be made at home. Simply mix 9.5ml of water with 0.5ml of the 10% concentration product. (If you don’t have a way to measure milliliters, this works out to just under two teaspoons of water and 10 drops of the 10% concentration PVP-I.)

If you’re unable to use an iodine mouth gargle for some reason, you can simply rinse your mouth with the same solution, then follow it up by treating your nasal cavity through irrigation, nasal swabbing, or a nasal spray.

One of the easiest methods of getting the PVP-I solution into the nasal cavity is with a device called the LMA Nasal Mucosal Atomization Device (MAD) syringe. 

This syringe has a special tip that is placed on the end where the needle would normally go. The tip takes a liquid, like the 0.5% diluted PVP-I solution I described and atomizes it into a very fine spray that can be absorbed into the nasal tissue. 

Draw the solution into the syringe until it contains 2.5 ml, and then spray that amount into each nostril while sniffing.

If you don’t have one of these syringes, simply tilt your head back and place a few drops of the solution into each nostril and then massage each nostril to help spread the solution. You can also take a clean swab (either those specifically designed for the nasal cavity or, if that’s not available, one used to clean the ears), soak it in the PVP-I 0.5% solution and gently rub it inside each nostril, then massage your nostrils.

While safe for most people, there are a few contraindications. If you are allergic to iodine, pregnant, or dealing with thyroid problems, do not use an iodine mouth gargle or the nasal applications outline above. The small amount of iodine in this solution is absorbed into the throat and nasal tissues and it can eventually be absorbed into the bloodstream.

In another study that highlighted the effectiveness of using PVP-I solutions, researchers found that after five days, thyroid-stimulating hormone became elevated but returned to normal 7 to 10 days later. However, there was no change in levels of T3 or T4 thyroid hormones.

Mouth gargling is not a sure cure for COVID-19 or any viral condition, but it does provide another prevention and treatment option to add to your arsenal. And as we enter cold and flu season, with most kids back at in-person school this year, building up your arsenal becomes even more important.

Dr. David Williams

Meet Dr. David Williams

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms.

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