Thursday, December 6, 2007

Honey for a cough

The next time your child’s coughing keeps the whole family up at night, you might be glad to have read this. It’s one of those rare mainstream medical journal articles that points toward an alternative, non-medicinal treatment for an ailment as superior to the standard pharmaceutical one. The article in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine looks at the “Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents.” The findings (in a partially double-blind randomized trial that involved 105 children ages 2 to 18 with upper respiratory infection) suggest that kids given a single nocturnal dose of buckwheat honey fare a bit better in terms of their cough symptoms and difficulty sleeping than those given a dose of Dextromethorphan (the active ingredient in cough suppressants like the Triaminic in our medicine cabinet) and significantly better than kids given a placebo.

In case you’re interested, their honey dosage chart looked like this: Age 2 to 5: ½ teaspoon; Age 6 to 11: 1 teaspoon; Age 12-18: 2 teaspoons. Remember, honey is NOT recommended for children under 1 (due to the risk of infant botulism).

And for those of you who don’t want to wade through the whole article but would like to understand why something like honey would relieve cough symptoms (which your grandmother may have told you long ago anyway), here’s an excerpt of their theorizing:

“Honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which have been suggested as the mechanism for its efficacy in wound healing and may help to explain its superiority in this study. Buckwheat honey is a dark variety of honey, and darker honeys tend to have a higher content of phenolic compounds. These compounds have been associated with the antioxidant properties of honey that may have contributed to its effect in this study. Further, its topical demulcent effect may contribute to its benefits for cough as postulated by the World Health Organization review.
Another explanation for some of the beneficial effects of honey was recently described in a provocative review by Eccles.
This article argues that the sweetness of liquid preparations used to treat cough accounts for a significant portion of the treatment effect and also explains why studies have shown that antitussive preparations containing DM are not significantly superior to sweet, liquid placebos. This hypothesis is based on the suggestion that sweet substances naturally cause reflex salivation and may also cause the secretion of airway mucus and lead to a demulcent effect on the pharynx and larynx, thereby reducing cough (particularly dry, unproductive cough). For productive cough, Eccles suggests that these secretions could improve mucociliary clearance in the airway via an expectorant mechanism.”

Of course honey’s a staple ingredient in plenty of home remedies, although I’ve never done much beyond sweeten some tea with it when I have a sore throat.
Any believers in the power of honey out there? What honey remedies do you swear by?

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