Honey Suppresses Coughs In Children, Helps Them Sleep Better
August 6, 2012

Honey Suppresses Coughs In Children, Helps Them Sleep Better

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Honey has long been believed to have numerous important health benefits; past studies have suggested the beeswax product helps in the healing of burns, aids in digestion and weight loss, and is even a good source of energy. And now, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have found that honey may have another important health benefit: the treatment of nighttime coughing in toddlers.

Based on their study, lead author Herman Avner Cohen and colleagues suggest that a spoonful of honey before bedtime could help little kids with a cough sleep better, with fewer, or perhaps no, wakeups through the night.

The authors wrote in the journal Pediatrics that honey´s high level of antioxidants could make it a better alternative to cough syrups, many of which have not been proven to be effective and which have been found to be dangerous if parents administer accidental overdoses.

In children, a persistent cough is one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor, said Dr. Ian Paul, a Penn State University pediatrician.

He agreed with the study that most cough medicines are ineffective at treating a cough and many have significant side effects. Many over-the-counter cough syrups have “do not use” warnings for children under four years of age.

“As opposed to many of the other things we give - medications and medicines that do have side effects - honey over age one is almost completely safe,” Paul, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health.

For the study, the Tel Aviv University researchers conducted a randomized trial using three types of honey and a placebo. The study included 300 children ages one to five who were suffering from throat infections. About 75 percent were given a teaspoon (about 0.35 ounces) of either eucalyptus honey, citrus honey or labiatae honey before bedtime, while the rest received the placebo -- made from sweet, yet honey-free, dates.

Using written and telephone surveys, researchers asked parents to report their kids´ cough symptoms and how well they and their kids slept through the night after dosing instructions were followed. Parents were asked to rate the symptoms on a 7-point scale both the night before and the morning after.

On average, parents initially gave their kids´ cough frequency and severity and sleep issues a rating between 3 and 4. That number improved in all the groups, although to a much larger extent in the honey groups.

Cough symptoms and sleep scores fell by 2 points, on average, in the honey groups, compared to a one-point drop in the placebo group. Parents also reported sleeping better the night after honey treatment, Cohen and colleagues reported.

Paul said there may be a few reasons why honey helps ease kids´ cough. “Honey is very rich in antioxidants, so that may have some role in fighting whatever infection is causing the cold symptoms,” he suggested.

Cohen, who also made note of honey´s antioxidant properties, said that different types of honey may contain different antioxidants -- including vitamin C and flavonoids -- and that darker honey seems to contain more.

“There's something about having a thick, viscous, sweet liquid that provides some sort of relief,” Paul told Reuters Health. Sweet liquid also causes salivation, which can thin mucus and lubricate the upper airway, he explained.

The researchers note that honey “may be a preferable treatment of cough and sleep difficulties associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infections.” But, they warned, it should not be used for infants under a year old due to the possible risk of infantile botulism.

Even in the study group, some parents reported adverse side effects in their children, which included stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. There were two cases in the citrus honey group and one each in the other two honey groups and also one in the placebo group.

While it remains unclear what properties, be it antioxidants or antimicrobes, honey has in the aid of nighttime coughing, Cohen and colleagues say another factor could explain at least part of the improvements seen.

There exists a close anatomic relationship between the sensory nerve fibers of the central nervous system and the gustatory nerve fibers involved in tasting sweetness, and honey could help increase that association. “This theory may explain some of the observed effect in patients treated with silan date extract because this is also a sweet substance,” the authors wrote.

The team acknowledged there were some limitations in the study, including the use of a single dose of honey and relying on assessment reports from parents. They also pointed out that the dropout rate was higher for children receiving the citrus and eucalyptus honey, possibly because both are more aromatic, which children may not have liked.

The study was co-funded by the Honey Board of Israel.