You’ve heard the one about honey as a home remedy for upper-respiratory misery caused by the common cold. It’s no joke.

Honey, in fact, is more effective than antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines, according to a review of 14 studies by researchers at the University of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England. In a data analysis of clinical trials with 1,761 participants, honey relieved symptoms more effectively than typical cold treatments like cough suppressants, expectorants, antihistamines and painkillers.

Honey proved particularly effective in reducing the frequency and severity of coughs. Two studies also showed symptoms lasted up to two days less when treated with honey. With few exceptions, honey qualifies as a universal treatment. (One exception: Because honey can contain bacteria that causes infant botulism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it should not be given to children under 1 year old.)

The researchers looked at studies that included both adults and children, with honey administered straight, dissolved in water or mixed with milk. Because of that, they said in a blog post in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, “the tradeoff was that some studies we included differed greatly, which meant that our conclusions could not be as strong.”

Only two studies they reviewed included a placebo, which suggests honey as a cold treatment requires greater investigation. The researchers could not recommend a specific dose or method for taking honey.

That honey can relieve common cold symptoms, without a prescription, better than antibiotics is no big shock. Most upper-respiratory tract infections are viral. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.

Honey has some antibacterial properties of its own, likely because of its enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide. Other honey, such as manuka, has shown significant antibacterial action even when its hydrogen peroxide action is blocked.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care provider.

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