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Will Chocolate Calm Your Cough?

Might chocolate calm your cough? Some research is suggestive but inconclusive. Treat it as a possible home remedy and try it yourself.
Will Chocolate Calm Your Cough?
Cacao cocoa chocolate dark chocolate

This is the time of year when lots of people have nagging coughs. Traditional cough medicine leaves a lot to be desired. But could chocolate calm your cough?

Might You Use Cocoa to Calm Your Cough?

Scientists in Great Britain say chocolate appears to be a good cough medicine. They conducted a randomized controlled trial comparing a common cough syrup (citric acid monohydrate in a sweet base) to a chocolate-based cough medicine (Birring et al, BMJ Open, Jan. 16, 2017). This ROCOCO study included 163 patients and was published as a real-world evaluation. The chocolate-based syrup also contains diphenhydramine, ammonium chloride and levomenthol, ingredients approved as OTC cough remedies in Great Britain.

People getting the chocolate-flavored cough medicine got relief from the coughs within a few days. That was a little quicker than those taking “simple linctus,” the cough syrup used for comparison. However, the difference was not significant.

The trial medicine contains chocolate compounds such as theobromine. One of the authors suggests that sucking on a piece of chocolate might be a tasty and effective way to calm your cough.

Why Might Chocolate Calm Your Cough?

This isn’t the first time chocolate compounds have been studied as a cough suppressant. Previous studies have used guinea pigs, who are very sensitive to cough, to test theobromine. The first one found that theobromine, a crucial component of chocolate, showed promise as an effective cough treatment (Usmani et al, FASEB  Journal, Feb. 2005). A few years later, scientists reported that both theobromine and theophylline, a related compound, reduced guinea pigs’ airway reactivity and cough (Mokry et al, Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Nov. 2009).

It’s a shame that a clinical trial in humans did not provide evidence that theobromine will calm your cough (Morice et al, Journal of Thoracic Disease, July 2017). Some readers have found that sucking on a little bit of dark chocolate helps ease a cough. In addition to coughs, readers report that consuming chocolate can stop stubborn hiccups. We’d love to see more real research on both these possible uses of cacao compounds in their most delicious guise.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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