Why Antibacterial Soaps Don’t Stop Colds or Flu

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

December 28, 2015

In This Issue:

  • Antibiotics won’t help you beat off the cold or flu
  • The dangers of antibacterial soaps
  • Nature’s best remedies for cold and flu

Well, it’s official. Cold and flu season is here.

Some of my patients are loading up on antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Others are showing up at my office with runny noses and hacking coughs…along with demands for an antibiotic.

If you fall into either of these categories, let me set the record straight.

Antibiotics do nothing to stop or cure viral infections like a cold or flu! They don’t help against sore throats, bronchitis and many ear and sinus infections, either.

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At the same time, overuse of these drugs contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and other “superbugs” and are great at killing the good guy gut microbiome affecting your general health. And later on – when you really need antibiotic treatment – it might not work very well.

So please, don’t demand one when it’s not necessary.

Antibacterial hand soaps work much the same way. They kill bacteria, not viruses. This means that they won’t do anything to help you beat the cold or flu either. And just like antibiotics, they may be contributing to bacterial resistance.

Plus, the main ingredient in many antibacterial products, triclosan, is under fire for potential adverse health effects. In fact, the state of Minnesota recently placed a ban on it. Starting in January, 2017, products that contain triclosan can’t be sold in the state.

Even if you’ve never heard of triclosan, you probably have plenty of it in your body. It’s found in antibacterial soaps, body washes, deodorant – even toothpaste. And your body absorbs this chemical every time you use a product that contains it, so concentrations tend to rise with age.

This can be a real problem, because it can disrupt your endocrine system and affect levels of your sex hormones. It also suppresses thyroid function, impairs muscle function and promotes liver disease.

And by the way, this is something to keep in mind all year round, not just winter. (In the hot, sweaty summer it’s easy to load up on antibacterial body washes and deodorants in the hopes of keeping body odor at bay.)

Now, since antibiotics and antibacterials do nothing to get you through the cold and flu season – and may do more harm than good in the long run – what can you do?

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Your best bet is to build a strong immune system.

Now, about 70% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract. And you can boost immune response by feeding it a healthy diet that’s full of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Herbs like garlic, turmeric and green tea are also great additions to your diet. All of them have antioxidant activity that boosts immune response and make you less likely to catch a cold or flu.

A good probiotic will help, too.

They not only reduce your risk of catching viral infections, they can also cut down the symptoms if you do acquire one. Look for a probiotic that contains multiple strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The more living colonies (CFUs,) the more effective it will be.

If you still manage to pick up a bug along the way, you can cut your symptoms short with a few of these time-honored remedies:

Flu: Elderberry practically stops flu dead in its tracks by blocking viral growth. And it can reduce fever and other symptoms about four days quicker than if you don’t take it. All it takes is tablespoonful four times a day for 5-7 days. And don’t be fooled by lozenges and other “Elderberry remedies”. Only the liquid extract works.

Colds: An herb called andrographis is particularly good for sinus and upper respiratory infections. That’s why it should be part of your arsenal when seasonal colds and viruses pay a visit. You can make the tincture into a tea and drink 3-4 times a day. Or take in capsule form, according to the label instructions.

Sore throat: Hacking and coughing during a cold or flu often leads to a sore throat. And that aching throat is one of the main reasons people head to the doctor for antibiotics. If this is the case, goldenseal should be your first line of defense.

Goldenseal comes as a dried powder that can be added to water, along with a punch of salt and used as a gargle. But a word of warning: It can be extremely bitter. If you can’t handle the taste, try taking it in capsule form.

Oh, and yes! Wash your hands with regular soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day. You can also use alcohol wipes in a pinch.

Stoker TE, et al. Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicol Sci. 2010 Sep;117(1):45-53.

Cherednichenko G, et al. Triclosan impairs excitation-contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012 Aug 13;109(35):14158-63.

Yueh MF, et al. The commonly used antimicrobial additive triclosan is a liver tumor promoter. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Dec 2;111(48):17200-5.

Kang EJ, et al. The effect of probiotics on prevention of common cold: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trial studies. Korean J Fam Med. 2013 Jan;34(1):2-10.

Smith TJ, et al. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. Br J Nutr. 2013 Jun;109(11):1999-2007.

Zakay-Rones Z, et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

Gabrielian ES, et al. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination Kan Jang in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections including sinusitis. Phytomedicine. 2002 Oct;9(7):589-97.