A very common cause of a lingering cough is an upper respiratory infection that has come and gone. You and your doctor may run a gamut—and run up a huge medical bill—in search of an exotic, life-threatening cause of a die-hard cough that’s really happening because cough-triggering nerves have become overly irritated and hypersensitive from that cold you had.
Nature’s cure for an aggravating cough is honey, of course, but it still might not be a match for a cough that has lingered for weeks. What would you say if I told you that adding a little bit of a certain beloved beverage to a spoonful of honey could kick honey’s cough-soothing properties up a notch? In fact, the combination may be so potent that it not only knocks out a persistent cough, it prevents a horrid mouth and throat condition common to people receiving chemotherapy.
It turns out that having some coffee with your honey (instead of the other way around) does the trick.
HOMEMADE COUGH RELIEF
A team of Iranian researchers ran across this seeming marvel when they compared a honey-coffee remedy with a steroid solution and an expectorant cough suppressant. They performed the comparison in 97 adults whose cough had lingered for more than three weeks after a respiratory infection came and went. Smokers and any other potential study participants whose coughs could be diagnosed as something other than a “persistent post-infectious cough” were not allowed to participate in the study.
Participants were divided into three groups. One group received a “jam” made of honey and coffee (the honey-to-coffee ratio was about five parts honey to one part instant coffee). Another group received a jam containing the steroid prednisolone, which is sometimes prescribed to people with persistent cough…and the third group received a jam containing guaifenesin—the active ingredient in expectorants such as Mucinex and Robitussin. All three remedies were made by a pharmacist to look and taste the same by adding food coloring, coffee essence, artificial honey flavor and liquid glucose to the products containing the steroid and expectorant.
The participants drank one tablespoon of their jam dissolved in about seven ounces of warm water three times per day (every eight hours) for a week. All of the participants knew what remedies were being compared, but none knew which one he or she was taking. And they all agreed not to use any other anti-inflammatory drugs or cough suppressants or otherwise consume any honey or coffee during the study.
Results: The honey and coffee combo strongly beat out the steroid, with the combo reducing cough frequency by 93% compared with 20% for the steroid. And it obliterated the expectorant cough suppressant, which had virtually no effect on the frequency of persistent cough.
STUMBLING ON ANOTHER REMEDY
When the researchers noticed that the honey-coffee remedy healed the irritated throats of their study participants very quickly, a bright idea occurred to them. They turned their sights to studying the combo in people with mucositis, a condition affecting 40% of people receiving chemotherapy, 80% receiving radiotherapy of the head and neck and all patients who undergo bone marrow transplantation.
In mucositis, raw, ulcerous, burning sores develop in the mouth, throat and sometimes other parts of the digestive tract. This happens because cancer therapies target all fast-growing cells whether they are healthy or not. These include cells lining the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines.
The research team designed a study similar to the cough study, but in this case pitted a honey/instant coffee syrup against a steroid syrup and a plain honey syrup (all flavored to taste the same).
Results were equally remarkable—symptoms improved by 86% in the coffee/honey group…by 64% in the honey-only group…and by only 43% in the steroid group.
Coffee and honey—who would’ve thought?!
The researchers theorized that the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and salivary-gland-stimulating effects of honey and the antioxidant effects of coffee had a synergistically protective effect on mucous membranes of the mouth and throat.
I’m not entirely happy with this study because it (like the one on lingering cough) did not comment on safety or side effects. Patients in the mucositis study were instructed to sip three teaspoons of syrup every three hours—that’s about nine tablespoons of diluted honey and coffee per day—that doesn’t sound too good for blood sugar levels or the waistline. Still, it might be a lesser evil compared with mucositis and its complications, which include infection of mouth and throat sores that can lead to life-threatening sepsis.
Also, although steroids are sometimes used in other parts of the world to treat mucositis, they’re not used for this in the United States. Here, treatment of severe mucositis involves drugs that aid cell growth or else cryotherapy, which freezes away damaged sore-causing cells. Patients are also instructed to frequently brush their teeth to thwart bacterial growth and gargle with salty water and/or baking soda three to four times per day to keep mucous membranes moist and clean. They may also be told to use mouth-and throat-coating products that reduce pain (oral products that contain lidocaine, for example) and soothe the affected area (products such as Kaopectate).
That said, steroids are sometimes used here in America to treat serious cases of canker sores or other types of mouth ulcers and inflammation, such as those caused by allergic reactions.
The Iranian researchers’ use of a steroid in their study of mucositis may not have been in line with American standards, but that doesn’t seem to take away from the fact that their honey and coffee concoction had an impressive effect on symptoms of mucositis and mouth sores—as it did on relieving a persistent cough.
WORTH A TRY?
If a lingering cough that set in after a cold is driving you crazy, having some coffee with your honey (by mixing instant coffee granules with honey) might be worth a try. It may even bring relief if you are predisposed to mouth and throat irritation or are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy. But this is definitely a remedy I wouldn’t take several times a day before speaking with my doctor since the short- and long-term adverse effects, such as effects on blood sugar levels, aren’t known.