A new study suggests that honey is better for easing sore throats and coughs than many over-the-counter medicines and antibiotics.
The sweet nectar made by bees – meaning it’s cheap to mass produce – has strong antimicrobial properties and has been used for thousands of years as a traditional health remedy.
New research by scientists at the University of Oxford, published by BMJ Evidence-based Medicine, examined honey’s effectiveness in treating upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).
The study compared data on how honey performed against medical treatments including painkillers, cough suppressants, antihistamines and expectorants.
Researchers studied 14 clinical trials using information from 1,761 people of varying age groups.
The data showed that honey, which can also help to heal wounds because its high viscosity provides a protective shield against infection, performed better in easing symptoms.
The scientists behind the study said in the report: “Upper respiratory tract infections are the most frequent reason for antibiotic prescription.
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“Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate. 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.”
It was noted that there is vast variation in how honey is made, which suggested more research into the most effective kinds of nectar was needed.
Chair of The College of Medicine, Dr Michael Dixon, agrees that honey could provide a viable alternative for patients with URTIs, saying: “The College advocates the use of natural remedies that go with the flow of nature wherever possible and appropriate.
“Honey has been known for some time to have antimicrobial properties and it is vital that we invest research in exploring foods, plants and herbs that might increase our resistance to disease especially at the time of COVID-19.”