Drinking alcohol kills germs?
No, your vino will not cure your cold.
COVID or not, reappears with each cold season “the” solution to fight the common cold, which many people like to believe: having a drink of alcohol would kill the germ. The Rumor Detector explores what is known.
The origin of the rumor
Ethanol, i.e. the alcohol contained in alcoholic beverages, has recognized disinfectant properties. It is notably used in various products used to clean surfaces and the skin. Ethanol can kill bacteria, microscopic fungi and viruses. According to the American Disease Surveillance Agency (CDC), its antimicrobial action comes from its ability to “denature” proteins. Ethanol would also cause damage to the cell membranes of microbes. From there to believe that it could also kill viruses inside our body, there is only one step…
The first problem is that in order to eliminate the microbes, the alcohol must be present in a concentration of 60 to 90%. Below 50%, the disinfectant activity of alcohol decreases rapidly. Remember that, according to Éduc'Alcool, the average concentration of a beer is 5 %, and that of a glass of spirits, 40 %.
The second factor to consider is the duration of exposure of microbes to alcohol. According to studies evaluating the effectiveness of different hand sanitizers, this type of product takes about 30 seconds to kill rhinoviruses or influenza present on the surface of the skin.
However, when alcohol is consumed, it is directed within seconds to the stomach and therefore does not stay in contact with the pharynx for very long, the place where the digestive system and the respiratory system meet. In addition, these viruses settle in regions of the respiratory tract that are not accessible to alcoholic beverages, including the nasal mucous membranes, the sinuses and the larynx.
Can alcohol prevent?
A few studies have attempted to show that alcohol could prevent respiratory infections, if not eliminate them. For research published in 1993 in the American Journal of Public Health, subjects were voluntarily infected with different cold-causing viruses and researchers noted that those who drank more alcohol developed fewer symptoms. But oddly, this was true only among non-smokers: the study methodology actually included a lot of variables, for a tiny control group (26 people).
In 2002, another team wanted to know if this was the case for people naturally exposed to the common cold. They therefore asked 4,287 participants to complete a questionnaire about their alcohol consumption and to note in a calendar the presence and intensity of their symptoms. The total amount of alcohol was not associated with a reduction in cold episodes, although, again oddly, red wine drinkers seemed to be more protected than beer drinkers.
These two Studies have associated the prevalence of colds with the amount of alcohol consumed, regardless of the frequency of such consumption. In 2012, Japanese researchers came to the conclusion that frequent alcohol consumption was associated with a decrease in colds. In their case, however, their subjects consumed more beer and spirits than wine.
In any case, it should be remembered that most doctors agree that a high consumption of alcohol can have negative health effects.
Alcohol in alcoholic beverages cannot not kill germs that cause colds or the flu. Debate continues as to whether it reduces the risk of developing symptoms, but studies are few and even those who support this hypothesis admit that the mechanism is still poorly understood.