Health & Wellbeing

Oxford metastudy finds honey most effective treatment for coughs and colds

Oxford metastudy finds honey m...
Honey was found to be more effective in reducing cough symptoms from mild respiratory infections compared to other usual care interventions
Honey was found to be more effective in reducing cough symptoms from mild respiratory infections compared to other usual care interventions
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Honey was found to be more effective in reducing cough symptoms from mild respiratory infections compared to other usual care interventions
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Honey was found to be more effective in reducing cough symptoms from mild respiratory infections compared to other usual care interventions

A new systematic review and meta-analysis from a trio of University of Oxford researchers is affirming the effectiveness of honey as a first-line treatment for upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). The study suggests antibiotics are ineffective for these kinds of minor coughs and colds, and honey offers superior symptomatic relief according to the evidence gathered to date.

It is no newsflash to suggest honey has potent anti-microbial effects. Back in 2018 the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Public Health England went so far as to change its general recommendations for doctors and health care professionals, saying honey should be prescribed before antibiotics for patients with mild coughs and colds.

Those earlier recommendations were based on a number of scattered studies looking at the effectiveness of honey in treating different symptoms arising from upper respiratory tract infections. Reducing unnecessary antibiotic treatments was the primary reason behind changing these general health recommendations.

The only prior systematic review on this topic focused on the efficacy of honey in treating cough symptoms in children. The new research offers the first comprehensive review of clinical trial data in all patient cohorts, with a general focus on whether honey is more effective at treating upper respiratory tract symptoms than other treatment modalities.

The new study homed in on 14 clinical trials investigating honey’s efficacy treating upper respiratory tract infections. The trials included in the study were of course quite diverse. Only two trials specifically compared honey to a placebo, while the rest matched honey against a variety of “usual care” strategies, from over-the-counter cough syrups to antihistamine treatments.

The researchers found honey was more effective at reducing upper respiratory tract symptoms compared to all usual care treatments. The main limitation noted in the study was the scarcity of placebo-controlled trials directly investigating the efficacy of honey, so one recommendation from the researchers is the need for a large placebo-controlled trial.

“Honey is a frequently used lay remedy that is well known to patients,” the authors conclude in the new meta-analysis. “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 researchers do clearly add, not all honey is created equal. They say honey is a complex and heterogeneous substance, so some types of honey may be more effective in treating coughs and colds. It is noted, however, despite the broad variety of types of honey used in the clinical trials that were reviewed, the results were significantly consistent. This offers a reassuring signal that while some honey may be more effective than others, any honey should generally be somewhat beneficial.

The new study was published in the journal BMJ Evidence-based Medicine.

10 comments
paul314
For cough/cold caused by virus (which is the overwhelming majority of colds) of course antibiotic is going to be useless. But that doesn't stop people from asking for them.
Worzel
I use it frequently. Seems like they are reinventing the wheel, but it wont be welcomed by ''Big Pharma''!
Rustgecko
If doctors are handing out antibiotics for minor upper respiratory infections, the solution is to discipline the doctors, and NICE instructs them not to, and to control the pointless use of antibiotics.
pmshah
Actually this hs been a home remedy for us Indians for centuries. All we do is add turmeric powder to a spoonful of honey and lick it so that it coats the throat.
wolf0579
Honey is hydrophilic, and it absorbs the moisture from the cells of bacteria and kills them. I carry a small package of honey in my first-aid kit for deep cuts and anything that might cause infection. Into the wound goes the honey then the bandage right on top. A split aloe leaf under the bandage, right on top of a cleaned and honey treated wound will leave almost no scar.
toni24
Honey ad lemon has been a cough treatment for my family line for centuries and a tea of Mullen plant leaves is also a great help, especially since it grows wild throughout the USA. Big Pharma has been against the use of old time remedies that has been staples for people for up to a thousand years. Hell, even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew a bit about anti bacterial treatment of wounds to prevent gangrene. Of course they used a paste that has a high level of toxicity for healthy human systems. But it is better than dying from blood poisoning
nick101
I'd be concerned about the growing importation of Chinese 'honey' which is mainly synthetic and is blended with domestic honey to lower the price.
Karmudjun
Other than in the first year of one's life (NEVER GIVE HONEY TO AN INFANT UNDER 1 YEAR OF AGE!), honey should be a first choice or an adjunct to other therapeutics for a cold or upper respiratory complaint. Big pharma could care less - they (and almost any other manufacturer who has an eye on better sleep and cold relief) have their eye on anything that could work. You might notice items that compete with similar efficacy on the drugstore shelves, many marketed as lozenges or teas. But think and say what you will.

Physicians who treat upper respiratory distress in otherwise healthy individuals do not and should not prescribe antibiotics. People with asthma or pre-existing pulmonary issues are prescribed ethical and evidence based medications to reduce the impact of the illness. With severe enough preexisting illnesses, Z-packs, steriods, rescue inhalers, etc. do much more than honey - even honey with lemon - can do under those circumstances.

I'm not trying rain on anyone's right to express their opinion, but big pharma has many other ways of taking advantage of the market place. They like to seem like they have physicians' and patients' benefit at the forefront. And you are right - especially with children who have the sniffles or pull at their ears, we are asked immediately to prescribe antibiotics. And we have to caution all new parents to AVOID HONEY IN THE FIRST YEAR OF LIFE to avoid the risk of botulism. Rich, next medical synopsis you write on honey usage, please include that caveat. People forget and it only takes one dose to regret it!
moreover
Did the study say how the honey was administered? Dissolved in tea? Licked off a spoon? How, when, where, and how often a medication is given greatly changes its impact.
EUbrainwashing
@paul314 - the cough/cold may originate as a result of a viral infection and viral pneumonia but then a bacterial infection can result, the most common being Streptococcus (pneumococcus).