Does drinking alcohol have antiseptic effects if I am sick?
I‘m male, 31 years old and have to have a drink tonight for business. Unfortunately I think I‘m falling sick. Will alcohol kill the bugs in my throat?
The short answer is that in theory, alcohol of a strong enough concentration CAN indeed kill germs in your body, but it's also a bad idea as it leads to gut wall lining damage.
Hence, doctors will most certainly not advise for alcohol to be used for as antiseptic properties when you have a stomach or throat infection.
For further details, here's the evidence:
1. Red wine is more effective than beer at killing bugs
A 1988 study looked at a few common drinks, including milk, water, beer, and wine for their antiseptic effects.
They did this by adding the bugs directly to the drink in question.
It was found that red wine and beer both resulted in dead bugs, but red wine was more effective at killing bugs.
2. The alcohol concentration and how long you expose the bugs to alcohol matters
The alcohol hand rubs used by doctors in hospitals usually contain a high alcohol concentration in the range of 60-80% to kill all the bugs.
The concentration of alcohol is certainly important for the effect on bugs (microbes).
Another study looked at the effect of alcohol in the mouth, and how effective it was at killing germs.
It was found that:
- Alcohol concentrations of less than 40% was significantly weaker in affecting bacterial growth.
- Alcohol with 10% concentration had nearly no effect.
The exposure time of alcohol was also important. When 40% alcohol (the typical vodka concentration) was used the effect on inhibiting the growth of these microorganisms was much greater when applied over 15 minutes compared to 6 minutes.
3. Why drinking alcohol at high concentrations to kill germs is not such a good idea
Simply put, alcohol damages your gut wall lining.
This is why doctors often treat alcoholics with stomach ulcers and erosions. The greater the concentration of alcohol, the more the damage to your gut wall.
4. For alcohol to reach a level in your blood stream to be effective at killing germs, you'd be dead
Antibiotics exert their body-wide antiseptic effect by reaching a certain concentration level in your blood to be effective.
This is why your doctor always prescribes a certain dose at regular time intervals.
However, consider that a blood alcohol level of 0.2 percent is enough to know most people out, and a level of 0.5 puts you at risk of death by alcohol poisoning - it's simply not possible to reach that high an alcohol concentration in your blood for it to exert any useful antiseptic effect.