Upper respiratory tract infections are the most common reason for doctors to prescribe antibiotics. However, as most of these infections come from viruses, antibiotics are both ineffective and inappropriate. Now, in a meta-analysis, researchers from Oxford University have found that honey works better to relieve symptoms than just about any other treatment.
Honey has been known for its antibacterial properties for millennia- and was even popular among the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks for medicinal use. While it has been recommended for acute coughs in children aged five and over and adults by various health bodies in the UK, until now, there has been little evidence on how it works in other populations and for other upper respiratory tract infections and symptoms.
To change this, researchers from Oxford conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies to compare the effects of taking honey, antibiotics, over-the-counter cough syrups, medications, and placebos to treat symptoms from upper respiratory tract infections. All of the studies included were randomized controlled trials.
In the end, they found that honey is linked to a significantly larger reduction in symptoms than other methods of symptom relief. This rang true for cough severity and frequency in particular.
“Doctors often prescribe antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections, even when they could be fairly certain they might offer no clinical benefit, often due to a lack of alternative treatments and an earnest desire to help patients feel better,” says Dr. Charlotte Albury, one of the study’s authors.
Dr. Joseph Lee, another of the study’s authors, added, “Honey is cheap and widely available, many people will probably have some sitting in the cupboard anyway, so it’s worth giving it a try before visiting your GP.”
However, Lee also said that if symptoms are getting worse or you feel very unwell, it is still recommended to see a doctor.