Honey is more than a tasty alternative to sugar. A new study suggests it is an effective treatment for coughs and colds, and may even perform better than over-the-counter medicines.

According to researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK, honey relieves the symptoms of cough and flu-like illnesses better than commercial remedies. It is also the cheaper, more accessible and safer option.

They also assert that antibiotic prescription is ineffective and inappropriate since the majority of upper respiratory tract infections are viral.

“Antibiotic over prescription for upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in primary care exacerbates antimicrobial resistance,” reads the paper. “There is a need for effective alternatives to antibiotic prescribing. Honey is a lay remedy for URTIs, and has an emerging evidence base for its use. Honey has antimicrobial properties, and guidelines recommended honey for acute cough in children.”

Researchers analysed existing evidence to determine how honey and over-the-counter medicines compare when treating upper respiratory tract infections. They included 14 studies and identified 1345 unique records in their analysis.

“Compared with usual care, honey improved combined symptom score, cough frequency and cough severity,” they found.

“Honey was superior to usual care for the improvement of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It provides a widely available and cheap alternative to antibiotics. Honey could help efforts to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance, but further high quality, placebo controlled trials are needed,” the study concluded.

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