Does Honey Beat Conventional Cures For Respiratory An infection?
Most of us were raised on pharmaceutical cough and cold medicine as a solution to respiratory ailments. With the exception of antibiotics, these are typically designed to provide symptomatic relief. When they come in syrup form, they often have a nasty, sickly-sweet taste too.
But could the best cough and cold cure be a simple serving of quality honey?
Honey comes out on top
In a recent study, a trio of Oxford University researchers analyzed 14 articles with a total of 1,761 participants. All over-the-counter traditional medicines for colds and sinus infections, including antibiotics and honey, were included. Of these, honey turned out to be the best solution.
Honey reduced the severity of the cough by 44 percent, the amount of cough by 36 percent and shortened the infection time by an average of two days. Studies of honey mostly used it on its own, but some included honey with coffee or as part of the herbal mixes Grintuss and Honitus.
Some of the benefits of honey lie in its stickiness, which means that it gives the throat a protective, soothing coating. It’s not just about symptomatic relief, however. Honey also has antibacterial properties that microbes cannot develop resistance to. This includes a high concentration of sugar, which draws water from the bacterial cells and kills them. And of course honey tastes delicious! If you’re dealing with children or find the taste of pharmaceutical syrups off-putting, this is a bonus.
In Australia, the Royal Children’s Hospital even describes honey on its data sheet as a better treatment than pharmaceutical cough suppressants. Research on children has found that honey has equal or superior effects compared to over-the-counter cough medicines. In one of the studies, the single dose of cough severity halved by honey was on a 10-point scale between 4.09 and 1.93.
Traditional Remedies: Just a Placebo?
Previous studies suggest that common over-the-counter cough syrups are no better than a placebo. A review of 60 medicines sold in the UK found that the real “active ingredient” may just be the sweet, bitter or spicy flavors. Sugar, honey, treacle, paprika, or lemon soothe dry throats by triggering reflex salivation. They can also stimulate the production of mucus in the airways, helping to relieve a dry cough and removing microbes from the lungs.
In addition, the sweetness can slightly increase the production of our own opioids, which relieves pain and suppresses coughs. The introduction of sugar on the tongue interferes with the hiccups, and the suppression of such reflexes and coughing is a characteristic of opioids.
Honey as an antibiotic and a probiotic
Honey has antibacterial properties, in part due to its high sugar content and acidic pH, which dries out bacterial cells. Hydrogen peroxide is another contributor, as is antimicrobial phytochemicals from the flower nectars that bees make honey from. In addition, honey has antioxidant, prostaglandin-inhibiting, and healing effects that all reduce inflammation. The honey with the strongest antimicrobial properties is Manuka honey, a flowering tree native to New Zealand.
Unlike traditional cough suppressants, honey can have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome. Its prebiotics feed on friendly species while some of its antioxidants inhibit harmful ones. A laboratory study found that the numbers of two Lactobacillus species, L. acidophilus and L. plantarum, were 10-100 times higher in the presence of honey. Rats fed honey also had higher numbers of lactobacillus than sucrose and rats in the control group. Lactobacillus species promote immune health through mechanisms such as the inhibition of pro-inflammatory species.
Raw honey is best
Raw honey may be the best type when it comes to relieving respiratory infections. It has higher antioxidant levels than pasteurized products, according to a study comparing raw and conventional honey from the same flower sources.
This is important in fighting infection because our immune cells and tissues are exposed to high levels of oxidative stress. Since the enzymes in raw honey are partially responsible, a lack of heating above 40 degrees will help maintain the honey’s antioxidant properties. Catalase is one of those antioxidant enzymes and is accompanied by others such as glucose oxidase and diastase (all enzymes end in -ase). Glucose oxidase helps in the production of hydrogen peroxide, another antibacterial protective substance. If we don’t heat honey enough to shut down this enzyme, it can continue to produce peroxide. While catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide, they would stay in equilibrium with each other.
It’s important that you don’t put your raw honey in the microwave. Microwaves have been found to inactivate two antibacterial components of raw honey, glucose oxidase and defensin-1, which is both sounding and chewy. Defensin-1 disrupts the biofilms, slimy “shields” under which bacteria hide in the event of chronic infections or disorders of our microbiome. Keep your raw honey raw overall to maximize its antimicrobial effects.
Combine honey with other natural remedies
Honey can also be combined with other natural ingredients to help relieve coughs. A paste made from honey and coffee was tested in a clinical study with 97 people. Prednisolone (a corticosteroid); and the over-the-counter drug guaifenesin for post-infectious cough (PPC). The paste was made with 20.8 g honey and 2.9 g instant coffee and taken every eight hours for one week. After treatment, the cough frequency of the honey-coffee group decreased from 2.9 to 0.2. The use of steroids reduced the scores from 3.0 to 2.4, while guaifenesin only relieved the cough from 2.8 to 2.7.
PPC is an annoying condition where a cough lasts weeks or months after a respiratory infection clears up. It goes without saying that in the era of COVID-19, coughing is highly socially undesirable, which makes relief even more important.
Elderberry can be another effective accompaniment to honey in treating flu infections. In 60 patients who took 15 ml elderberry syrup four times a day, the duration of symptoms was reduced by an average of four days.
With regard to green tea, one observational study found that drinking one to five cups a day for six days a week reduced the risk of influenza by 40 percent, compared to drinking three days a week. Green tea and honey are compatible in terms of taste. For broad anti-inflammatory effects, this turmeric, coconut milk, and honey drink is both calming and satisfying.
Honey is more than just a sweet spice for toast or rice cakes. Its antimicrobial, soothing, and protective properties could make it superior to traditional cough remedies, especially in children. Just make sure it is high quality and preferably raw, although you can combine it with other natural remedies.