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Will Honey and Chocolate Ease Your Cough?

Honey and chocolate are unorthodox cough remedies, but there is evidence they can be helpful to calm an unpleasant cough.
Will Honey and Chocolate Ease Your Cough?
Chocolate in caramel splash Realistic vector illustration

A persistent cough can be hard to manage. Lots of people would like to find a remedy, and some individuals have found sweet ways to calm a nasty cough. Would you believe honey and chocolate could ease your discomfort?

Honey and Chocolate to Calm Coughs:

Q. Manuka honey (a type, not a brand) is very expensive, but I find it works well to control a cough. It is not as sweet as regular honey, but it is delicious. A tiny amount was sufficient to stop my coughing spell tonight.

A. You might be interested to know that the UK National Health Service agency, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has recommended honey for coughs due to upper respiratory infections such as colds. Ear-nose-and-throat doctors (otolaryngologists) have also recommended that honey can be used to treat cough in children (Tharakan et al, Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology, online Dec. 2, 2018).

What Is Manuka Honey?

Manuka honey is from New Zealand. It is rich in phenolic compounds that have antioxidant activity (Kavanaugh et al, Food Chemistry, Jan. 30, 2019). No studies have been conducted to determine if it is superior to other types of honey for calming a cough.

Chocolate as a Cough Remedy:

Another surprising cough remedy is chocolate. Some people have reported that dark chocolate may calm a cough. Research in guinea pigs shows that the cacao compound theobromine can suppress the cough reflex (Usmani et al, FASEB Journal, Feb. 2005).  However, clinical studies in humans have not provided strong evidence of this effect (Morice et al, Journal of Thoracic Disease, July 2017; Birring et al, BMJ Open, Jan. 16, 2017). Still, honey and chocolate should not have any frightening side effects in adults or children older than one year. (Babies under a year old should not be given honey because there is a risk that there might be C. botulinum spores in it. Such young children can’t fight off botulism as older children and adults can.)

Honey and Chocolate Have Advantages Over Dextromethorphan:

Both honey and chocolate taste better than dextromethorphan, a standard ingredient in cough syrup. In addition, though they can calm a cough, they are not susceptible to the same type of misuse as dextromethorphan.

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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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