All singers know to avoid chocolate before a performance. When you eat chocolate it can create extra mucus, which is not desirable for singing.
However, when you have a cough, it actually helps to coat your throat and soothe irritation that would normally cause you to cough. In fact, according to some research, it may be even more effective than codeine which is an ingredient in prescription cough syrups
Peter Barnes, professor of thoracic medicine at Imperial College London, UK led a study that found that theobromine, an alkaloid found in cocoa, is more likely to suppress a cough than some of the current cough medicines on the market.
The test was conducted with 10 healthy volunteers. The volunteers were given tablets containing theobromine, codeine or a placebo. They were then asked to inhale a gas containing capsaicin as a test for cough sensitivity. Capsaicin is a derivative of chili peppers.
The test indicated that volunteers given theobromine needed about one-third more capsaicin to produce coughing than those who took codeine. Researchers believe theobromine acts on the sensory nerve endings of the vagus nerve, which runs through the airways in the lungs to the brain. Capsaicin stimulates these endings to provoke coughing.
Professor Alyn Morice, head of respiratory studies at the University of Hull, concedes that chocolate can be more effective for soothing coughs than a dose of codeine syrup. Codeine is a narcotic and can bring with it some nasty side effects, like, drowsiness and constipation.
Theobromine, on the other hand, is a bitter alkaloid of the cocoa plant. It is a stimulant that improves mood. Theobromine is used as a bronchodilator by decreasing resistance in the respiratory airways and increasing airflow to the lungs. Unlike caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, Theobromine does not impact the nervous system.
How much chocolate is enough?
In the study, volunteers were given 1000mg of Theobromine per dose, twice a day for two weeks. To compare, a bar of unsweetened dark chocolate bar contains about 450mg per ounce, sweet dark chocolate contains around 150mg and milk chocolate contains about 60mg.
Unfortunately, heavily processed items such as hot chocolate won’t have the same healing effects as a normal piece of chocolate. The warmth may soothe the throat initially, but the theobromine content would be too little to have an effect.
Dark chocolate is the healthier option, as it has anti-oxidant properties and typically lower levels of sugar. Nutritionist, Sandra Burns concurs that dark chocolate is the most beneficial for the body’s overall health – as it contains a higher dosage of cacao.
“Cacao is a superfood,” she says, “it’s high in minerals such as magnesium and, particularly in its raw form, is rich in antioxidant flavanols, too.”
Is it a cure?
While this may soothe a cough, the infection itself causing the sore throat cannot be cured by using any kind of cough medicine or by eating chocolate. Dr. Adam Simon, the Chief Medical Officer at Push Doctor, confirms that “most coughs are caused by viruses and will pass on their own in about a week.” He goes on to say that drinking a warm cup of lemon and honey could soothe your throat just as much as an over the counter cough syrup, but at a fraction of the price.
So, there you have it! Try sucking on a piece of dark chocolate before reaching for a codeine cough syrup and see how you feel. It’s at least, a good excuse to eat one of our favorite foods, guilt-free.
- Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough. https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fj.04-1990fje
- Chocolate ingredient could put a stop to persistent coughs and lead to new, more effective cough medicines. https://www.imperial.ac.uk/college.asp?P=5770
- Hsu, Christine. 2014. Chocolate May Be More Effective Than Codeine for Treating Persistent Coughs https://www.medicaldaily.com/chocolate-may-be-more-effective-codeine-treating-persistant-coughs-243847&sa=D&ust=1547605192281000&usg=AFQjCNEveBhtFV7XI3RS3oTpvs5UeSalPw
- Theobromine. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/theobromine#section=Top
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