KEY POINTS

  • Honey has been used for thousands of years as a home remedy for colds and coughs
  • However, its effectiveness in treating common cough or flu hadn’t been studied heavily
  • Now, experts at Oxford University’s Medical School and Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences found honey to be a more effective, safer, cheaper and readily available alternative to antibiotics

Honey can treat colds and coughs better than antibiotics or the usual over-the-counter medicines, a new study revealed.

Despite being a popular home remedy for coughs, the effectiveness of honey in treating these illnesses hasn’t been studied heavily. But, experts at Oxford University’s Medical School and Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences have now analyzed existing evidence to find out how upper respiratory infection symptoms like cough, sneezing, sore throat, and runny nose responded to treatment with honey.

They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, while searching several databases. The experts then identified 14 studies involving more than 1,700 participants of varying ages. Analysis of these studies revealed that, compared to usual care, honey improved cough frequency and severity. A couple of studies pointed out treatment with honey offered faster results and the symptoms lasted one or two days less.

The good old home remedy was found to be a more effective, safer, cheaper and readily available alternative to antibiotics in relieving symptoms of colds and flu-like illnesses. However, no specific type of honey was touted to be the best.  

With the finding of their new study, the researchers encouraged doctors to consider recommending honey to their patients instead of antibiotics.

Doctors usually prescribe the antibiotic amoxicillin to patients suffering from cough and flu-like illnesses. Previous studies have pointed out patients given amoxicillin do not recover quicker or have significantly fewer symptoms. Not only do antibiotics cause side effects, but they could also lead to antibiotic resistance when overused. Since a majority of upper respiratory tract infections are viral, antibiotics are both inappropriate and ineffective, said the researchers.

"Honey was superior to usual care for the improvement of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It provides a widely available and cheap alternative to antibiotics. Honey could help efforts to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance, but further high quality, placebo-controlled trials are needed," wrote the researchers in their paper published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.

Honey has also been touted for its antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, and has been used to treat wounds and digestive issues like diarrhea.

A 2010 study demonstrated honey worked better than popular cough suppressant dextromethorphan and antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) in easing nighttime coughs and improving sleep among children.

honey-1006972_1920 Honey better than antibiotics to relieve cold symptoms Photo: stevepb, Pixabay