Can Honey Cure Coughs and Colds?

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There are many treatments already available for the common cold, but should we ditch these well-known cures and painkillers for something usually found in the kitchen, honey?

To begin with, we first have to understand the well-known options that are available at the moment for people with a cold. Gargling with salt water or water with turmeric in it is a method used by people across the world for hundreds of years. On top of this, it is safe and easy to do as salt and turmeric are in most people’s kitchens. Another treatment is the use of painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen. Although painkillers can be used if necessary, often people consume much more than the prescribed amount, causing heightened side effects like nausea, dizziness, fatigue and many more unpleasant feelings. The last but most dangerous widely used cure for colds is antibiotics. Although they are effective for bacterial colds, they are not for viral colds. As doctors have been quite relaxed on the giving out of antibiotics for even viral colds, the bacterial common cold has evolved to be resistant to antibiotics in some cases. This is part of the reason why super-bacteria like MRSA have formed. To stop the overuse of antibiotics, a cure is needed which is more effective than gargling saltwater but is not contributing to the formation of more super-bacteria. This is where honey comes into play.1

So how does honey work to treat colds? Firstly, honey is viscous, a quality which means that it can coat a throat irritated by the specific pathogen. This results in honey being a natural painkiller, and with no side effects, a much better proposition to over-the-counter painkillers with many side effects and a high chance of over-consumption. Furthermore, due to honey containing anti-oxidants, the common cold is often killed in people using honey as a treatment.

But how does honey compare to cold and cough medications? As Ian Paul, professor of paediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, has said, “cough and cold medications have side effects and they don’t work well.” The reason for standard cold medications not working well is partly because much of the time when you get a cold, it is a viral cold, which is unresponsive to antibiotics and just requires patience to get past. This means that when doctors give out antibiotics for a viral cold, for the patient’s peace of mind, it is useless as the doctor knows that the antibiotic will not work, which is why as Professor Paul says, “they don’t work well.” This is where honey is one step ahead. Antibiotics work only for bacterial colds, but honey works for bacterial and viral colds alike, making it a more versatile and viable solution for a patient with a cold.

Over the last ten years, especially in the United Kingdom, doctors, particularly GPs, are recommending honey as a possible treatment for colds and coughs. However, many, including myself would argue that the NHS should recommend honey as a natural treatment more, for the following reasons. Honey is safer than over-the-counter medications and is often more effective at treating colds. There is no prescribed limit on the use of honey as it is not very harmful at all, as compared to prescribed doses of painkillers and medication which are often ignored leading to unpleasant heightened side effects. In addition to this, antibiotics when used unnecessarily for, viral colds, accelerate the creation and evolution of new more dangerous superbugs like MRSA, which honey does not do.2

To conclude, honey is a treatment for colds that is more effective, safe, cheap and less risky for the evolution of superbugs than over-the-counter medications and painkillers. It is now in the hands of medical authorities like the NHS to prescribe honey more often for common colds and coughs.


References

  1. Tosh, P., 2020. Honey: An Effective Cough Remedy?. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/cough/expert-answers/honey/faq-20058031> [Accessed 31 August 2020].
  2. nhs.uk. n.d. Honey, Not Antibiotics, Recommended For Coughs. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/honey-not-antibiotics-recommended-coughs/> [Accessed 31 August 2020].

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