Research in the US suggests that naturally occurring honey may ease coughs and respiratory illnesses in children more effectively than over the counter medicines.
While honey has been used for thousands of years to treat wounds and ailments, scientists have only recently begun to explain the precise effects of the natural sweetener’s antiseptic and antibacterial qualities on human health.
During a trial, scientists from the Penn State College of Medicine researchers asked parents to give either honey, honey flavoured dextromethorphan (DM), or no treatment to 105 children, between the ages of 2 and 18 children, all suffering from nocturnal coughs. The trial was partially blind, researchers said, as parents could not distinguish between the honey and the medication, although those administering no medication were aware of the fact.
The parents were asked to report on cough frequency and severity, how bothersome the cough was, and how well both adult and child slept, both 24 hours before and during the night of the dosage.
According to researcher Ian Paul, all the parents indicated that honey yielded greatest improvement, followed by DM, while no treatment was consistently named as the poorest treatment.
Based on parental “symptom points”, children treated with honey improved by an average of 10.71 points compared with 8.39 points for DM-treated children and 6.41 points for those who were not treated.
According to Paul, this study is likely to be noted with great attention across the US, as the Food and Drug Administration recently recommended that children under six should not be given over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, due to potentially harmful side effects.
“Our study adds to the growing literature questioning the use of DM in children, but it also offers a legitimate and safe alternative for physicians and parents,” said Paul.
While safe for adults, DM may provoke dystonic reactions, severe involuntary muscle contractions and spasms in children.
“Additional studies should certainly be considered, but we hope that medical professionals will consider the positive potential of honey as a treatment given the lack of proven efficacy, expense, and potential for adverse effects associated with the use of DM,” he added.
Several scientific reports linking honey to health have been published in the last few years, including research suggesting that taking honey in combination with calcium supplements could help boost bone strength.
Furthermore, Spanish scientists said in February that bees that feed on honeydew produce honey with double the amount of antioxidants. Research such as this has helped boost honey consumption around the world, with sales increasing 14 per cent between 2004 and 2006, according to market analyst Mintel.
In international terms, China is currently by far the largest honey-producing nation in the world, with around a 40 per cent slice of the market, while the next biggest producers are the US, Argentina and Ukraine.
According to the American Honey Producers Association, China and Argentina have been adversely affecting America’s domestic honey industry with cheap imports, although there is a counter argument that both China and Argentina have been helping to counterbalance falling production in the US.
author: Charlotte Eyre