Got A Cough? Try Honey!

Got A Cough? Try Honey!

I was talking to a friend of mine recently who asked “what is the best over-the-counter medicine I can give my child or even myself when I get the common cough?”. You may be surprised by my answer! It was, of course, nature’s tasty antibacterial substance – honey!

It isn’t just honey’s antimicrobial properties that make it so great for a sore throat or cough but also its ability to coat mucous membranes and create a protective barrier.

Science has even backed up the traditional wisdom to give honey to soothe a cough. There have been several studies using honey as a cough remedy and one of the best designed ones was a clinical trial where 139 children aged 24-60 months with coughs were assigned randomly to one of 4 groups. The first group received honey, the second one dextromethorphan (AKA Robotussin/NyQuil/Benylin), the third diphenhydramine (AKA Benadryl), and the fourth group was the control group. The study found that “receiving a 2.5ml [1/2 teaspoon] dose of honey before sleep has a more alleviating effect on upper respiratory-induced cough compared with the over-the-counter medications”!

A 2014 systematic review by the highly respected Cochrane Group even discredited the multi-billion dollar cough suppressant industry by demonstrating that they are not very useful and even potentially harmful: “We found no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC [over-the-counter] medications in acute cough. Nineteen studies reported adverse effects of these medications and described infrequent, mainly minor side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headache and drowsiness”.

Therefore since the evidence clearly shows that honey is better or equal in effectiveness to over-the-counter drugs, doesn’t it make sense to go with the cheaper and healthier option, honey? I would say so!

So next time you or your child develops a cough, try using honey for its cough-soothing effects. To use honey for a cough you can simply dose ½-1 teaspoon just before bed or:

  • Give half a teaspoon for a child and a teaspoon for an adult, as needed
  • Stay hydrated! Ideally lots of tea (decaffeinated for children) sweetened with honey and add lemon for its high vitamin C content

Lastly, keep in mind that coughing is not an inherently bad thing. Our bodies use this mechanism to expel viruses, bacteria, and waste from our lungs. Which means it is okay to let yourself or your child to cough it out during the day and then get a good night’s rest by using honey to soothe the cough.

As always, don’t forget to cough into your shoulder or inner arm to help prevent spread of pathogens!

Yours in health,

Nicole Bobala, ND

P.S. Do not give honey to children less than one year of age as there is a very slight risk of botulism toxin exposure which their young immune systems are unable to handle

P.P.S. If you or your child has any of the following then be sure to visit your primary care physician (Naturopathic or otherwise): a prolonged and worsening cough, wheezing, and/or high fever

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Shadkam, Mahmood Noori, Hassan Mozaffari-Khosravi, and Mohammad Reza Mozayan. “A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 16.7 (2010): 787-793.

Smith, Susan M., Knut Schroeder, and Tom Fahey. “Over‐the‐counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings.” The Cochrane Library (2014).

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