Posted on: August 19, 2020 at 6:43 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 2:59 pm

For generations, honey has been used to soothe sore throats and tame coughs. Its low cost and easy availability has made it a staple home remedy over the years, but its efficacy has often been categorized with old wives’ tales and folk medicine.

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Today, however, doctors can recommend honey as a suitable treatment for coughs, colds, and other upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), and researchers have shown that it may be even more effective than conventional remedies.

Honey for Coughs

Antibiotics are often prescribed for URTIs, which affect the nose, throat, voice box, and large air passages that lead from the windpipe to the lungs. This, according to scientists from the University of Oxford, is an ineffective way to treat these kinds of infections since the majority of URTIs are viral and thus antibiotics are not an appropriate treatment [1].

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Since the efficacy of honey as a URTI treatment had not before been systematically reviewed, the researchers looked at studies that compared honey and preparations that include honey as an ingredient, such as antihistamines, expectorants, cough suppressants and painkillers. Their review included fourteen suitable clinical trials that involved nearly 18 hundred participants of various ages.

Upon reviewing the data, the researchers determined that honey was more effective at relieving the symptoms of URTIs than conventional treatments, and could provide a suitable alternative to antibiotics [2].

In particular, honey appeared to be the most effective at reducing the frequency and severity of coughing, and two of the studies actually found that symptoms lasted on average two days less in those who were treated with honey.

The researchers noted that these findings are important because switching to honey treatment for URTIs could help to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance [2].

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Not All Honey is Made Equal

The researchers involved in the study pointed out that honey is a complex substance and by no means a uniform product, which is another barrier to properly studying its use as a treatment for URTIs. 

While all types of honey have some level of antimicrobial activity, there are some types that are up to one hundred times more active than others. This is largely due to the flowers that the honey is made of, which will provide the honey with a wide range of physicochemical properties [3].

Manuka honey, which is derived from the nectar of the manuka tree, is often regarded as the best choice in terms of its antimicrobial properties. This is because of its methylglyoxal content, which is a naturally-occuring substance found in many foods that has antimicrobial activity.

Manuka honey has been tested against a wide range of microbes, and has been found to inhibit problematic bacterial pathogens, including those that are resistant to antibiotics [4].

For this reason, manuka honey is very effective at wound healing, however its use to treat the symptoms of URTIs have not been seen to be any more effective than other types of honeys. In terms of cough and cold symptoms, the most important thing is that you’re getting a good-quality honey.

There are, unfortunately, many “fake” honeys out there, and it is important that you know how to determine if your honey is actually all-natural and organic.

Further Study Needed

Despite these encouraging findings, the researchers note that further high quality, placebo-controlled trials are needed to better understand how honey can be used to treat URTIs [2].

It is also important to note that due to the dangers of botulism, honey should not be given to children under one year of age [5].

Next time you feel a cough or cold coming on, instead of getting an antibiotic prescription from your doctor, consider using honey to soothe your sore throat, or try making this powerful honey garlic mixture to ease your symptoms.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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