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Can Gargling Prevent The Common Cold?

Gargling, as commonly practiced in Japan, can not only soothe a sore throat, but may even prevent one.

February 20, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to protoflux and Dr. John McDougall


Gargling is one of the best things to do to treat a sore throat. As one of my medical mentors Dr. Klaper instructs, you " take a glass of warm water, add a pinch of salt, hold the glass of salt water in your hand, open your mouth, and take a deep breath. Tilt your head back, slide a generous mouthful to the back of your throat, and, with your mouth still open, gently breathe out through the water. Continue until the end of the breath, and then spit it into the sink. Repeat until the full glass of salt water is used."  Works wonders to soothe a sore throat, when you have a cold. But I had never heard of gargling to prevent a cold. Though not popular in the Western world, gargling has been strongly recommended in Japan to prevent upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold.  However, there have been no controlled trials, and it remained unresolved as to whether gargling was really effective, until this one was published in 2005. "They found a significant drop in the incidence of the common cold, but not the flu, suggesting that simple plain water gargling is effective to prevent respiratory infections among healthy people. This virtually cost-free modality would appreciably benefit people both physically and economically around the world. What do they mean economically? Well most Americans, for example, report about 2 and a half colds a year. Between medical costs and work absenteeism, we're talking nearly $40 billion dollars a year. So even if you take into account the 71 seconds it took on average to walk to and from the sink and gargle, and multiply that by the average wage to calculate the "cost of gargling" in wasted time, it's still considered a cost-effective strategy. Here's the latest, a new study on whether it works in kids. Gargling for Oral Hygiene and the Development of Fever in Childhood. a total of nearly 20,000 preschoolers were observed for 20 days, and just like the study in adults, gargling appears to lower the odds of illness by about a third, and gargling with green tea appeared to work better. Note they speculate that the fact that tap water is chlorinated may have played a role, so gargling with filtered water may be less effective, and I would stay away from iodine solutions such as betadine since one can run into the same kind of iodine overload thyroid dysfunction you can get by eating too much kelp.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is one of the landmark findings that I'm afraid no one will ever hear about because no one profits. No one, that is, except the millions of people spared from infection! I've been taking a break from my merciless travel schedule to work on my 2013 batch of videos, but as soon as I'm back on the road I'm hoping those 71 seconds will help protect me from all those airport germs.

If you liked this video you may also like The Risks and Benefits of Neti Pot Nasal Irrigation, (along with my brain-eating amoeba answer) Sleep & ImmunityAntioxidant Level Dynamics, and Zinc Gel for Colds?

What else might we learn from the Japanese? See Smoking Versus Kale Juice, Bowels of the EarthAsian Paradox, Why Do Asian Women Have Less Breast Cancer?, and any of my 31 videos on green tea or 41 videos on soy.

Check out my associated blog posts for more context: The Best Way to Prevent the Common Cold?Schoolchildren Should Drink More Water, and Probiotics During Cold Season?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • cobalamin

    Vitashine Vegan Vitamin D3 is the best flu/cold prevention I’ve come across however taking too much over a long period of time causes insomnia.

  • BrianH

    I only gargled after a sore throat but never thought to it before . And green tea? Gargling with green tea was best all. Amazing!

  • Veganrunner

    Dr Greger thanks for posting your schedule! You are going to be speaking a few blocks from my house March 3. I am coming!

    • SteveK

      Where is Dr. Greger’s schedule posted??

      • Veganrunner

        First paragraph in Doctor’s Notes above. Highlighted.

    • SteveK

      Found it, thanks. Suggest it should be prominent on the home page.

  • Craftymaker

    How often do they recommend gargling, daily? How about the temperature of the water? I’ve always used hot salt water to gargle with.

    • Ray

      This is my question too.

  • Jake

    The yoga assana (posture) known as the “roaring lion”- it involves sticking one’s tongue out towards your chin as far as possible – also relieves sore throat and allegedly helps with a number of other problems. We wonder if the effectiveness of gargling and the roaring lion has to do with stimulating circulation in the throat.

  • Mt Davis

    some may not agree, but I’ve gargled with straight Hydrogen peroxide for about 2 years now, and always! followed up with a gargle rinse of straight warm water at night and have never have had a cold since. Some say good some say bad? it works for me..

    • ted

      You don’t gargle with straight hydrogen peroxide. Getting a drop of merely 30% hydrogen peroxide on the skin feels like a hot fire poker and kills the skin. You probably gargle with 3% hydrogen peroxide.

  • Rie

    Hmmm. I was taught as an RN 20 years ago to gargle salt water for a sore throat. Salt being a killer of ‘bugs’, it makes sense.

  • James Thompson

    Did I missing something? None of the references mentioned using salt in the water.

  • dflores1123

    I was wondering if it matters when you gargle with the salt water? I’m w/ Rie. As an RN the use of salt water for gargling is nothing new for sore throats, but for prevention- that is new-news.

  • beccadoggie10

    Hydrogen peroxide and water also helps eliminate a sore throat. But, I’m not certain if it prevents a cold. Thus far, the best remedy I’ve found to prevent a cold or the flu is common sense. Washing hands often with soap and warm water, using alcohol base sanitizers on shared equipment or while traveling, and eating vitamin A and C rich foods, and ingesting one capsule of Astragalus Root 470 mg once a day.

    Despite our housekeeper coming into our home repeatedly with colds or the flu, I’ve not been made ill, as long as I take low dosage of this herb during cold and flu season.

    On the other hand, my dentist demands the use of patients gargling with Listerine, which I find disagreeable and potentially toxic as I am already chemically sensitive and avoid such unnecessary measures.

    • Nebuladancer

      Sounds more like a requirement for his comfort (not having to deal with bad breath) than a dental health issue.

  • Woodrow123

    Been doing a salt water sinus rinse twice/day for the past 5 years and have had 2 colds in that time. One of the colds was after I’d missed 2 days of the rinse and had been working in a K12 registration department, and the other right after my father passed away..high stress. I used to get colds 3-4 times/year and it always went to my chest. At least 1/2 the time it turned to bronchitis. Think I’ll add the gargle to my routine when things are really getting passed around. It makes sense given the success of the sinus rinse.

    • freerovingbovine

      I asked my MD about avoiding a prolonged cough after a cold. The advice was to exercise, or at least walk around more. The idea is to avoid letting the bug settle in the chest. I tried it, I was grumpy, but it worked.

      • Woodrow123

        Thanks! How much walking? Walking just to move or actually get puffing and break a sweat? I don’t imagine that you’d go to the point of exhaustion though, right?