Honey has been used as a traditional medicinal supplement for thousands of years – researchers at Oxford University have tested the medicinal power of honey for sore throats and coughs. The research trials indicate honey is better as a treatment for: sore throats, blocked noses, coughs and congestion than prescribed conventional medicines, including antibiotics.
Data analysis of these studies indicated that honey was more effective than usual care for improving symptoms, especially the frequency and severity of coughing. Two of the studies showed symptoms lasted one to two days less among those treated with honey.
Writing in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, the authors said: “Upper respiratory tract infections are the most frequent reason for antibiotic prescription. Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate”. As anyone who’s experienced a common cold will know, existing treatments and therapies often make a small difference in the overall course of the ailment; honey can feel like it’s doing something – and the researchers say it’s worth following up with large, high-quality, placebo-controlled trials.
The researchers suggest honey might therefore provide an alternative when doctors want to prescribe something to safely treat upper respiratory tract symptoms. They concluded: “Honey is a frequently used lay remedy that is well known to patients. It is also cheap, easy to access, and has limited harms. “When clinicians wish to prescribe for URTI, we would recommend honey as an alternative to antibiotics.
“Honey is more effective and less harmful than usual care alternatives and avoids causing harm through antimicrobial resistance.” The research team did however sound a note of caution, pointing out that not all honey is made the same way and that it is a complex substance. They also noted that only two of the studies involved a placebo, saying more of these studies need to be done before definitive conclusions can be reached.
In the meantime, work continues to look at how beneficial honey might be in terms of its antibacterial properties, and how it might be helpful for treating other ailments besides coughs and colds. Sometimes the best treatments are the ones nature has already provided for us – but more research is definitely needed.