Have you ever experienced a long-lasting cough, unable to find a solution after going through a string of pharmaceutical medications? Fortunately, one study looking at natural alternatives to medications found what could sometimes be a superior alternative – a combination of honey and coffee – for the treatment of persistent post-infectious cough (PPC).
PPC is a cough that persists for at least 3 weeks after a cold or other upper respiratory tract infection, and it sometimes lingers for as long as several months. Besides corticosteroids, conventional treatments may also involve codeine, antihistamines, or narcotic and bronchodilator drugs, all with their own negative side effects.
This study, conducted at Baqiyatallah University Hospital in Tehran, involved 97 participants who had suffered from PPC for more than 3 weeks. They were divided into 3 groups.
- One group received a jam-like paste of 20.8 grams of honey and 2.9 grams of instant coffee;
- one received 13.3 mg of prednisolone (a corticosteroid);
- and the last group received 25 mg of guaifenesin (the control).
The participants were instructed to dissolve a specific amount of the product they received in warm water, and to drink this every 8 hours for 1 week.
Both before and after the week of treatment, the severity of each person’s cough was evaluated by a validated visual questionnaire score. The control group showed a drop from 2.8 to only 2.7, while the steroid group showed a drop from 3.0 to 2.4. The honey-coffee group did the best; their cough frequency scores dropped from 2.9 to 0.2. These differences were deemed to be clinically significant.
The authors also stated that:
“Each year, billions of dollars are spent on controlling and trying to cure cough while the real effect of cough medicines is not quite reliable. Even though PPC…is not associated with disability and mortality, it can cause morbidity and is responsible for medical costs.”
Why the Coffee-Honey Combo Works
PPC is often caused by persistent inflammation of the upper airways. How exactly does the inexpensive combination of coffee and honey work against this?
Multiple studies have shown anti-inflammatory effects of coffee, such as one in which caffeine was found to block caspase-1 and therefore production of interleukin-1beta, a common inflammatory cytokine.
Caffeine may also relieve asthma by acting as a bronchodilator, as even small amounts have been shown to improve lung function, measured by forced expiratory volume and mid-expiratory flow rates. There seems to be no significant effect of caffeine on levels of nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates airways and blood vessels.
Honey has been found to possess anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, with the former being relevant to PPCs in which there may be a subclinical infection. Honey has direct anti-bacterial properties from hydrogen peroxide and constituents derived from the flowers that the bees have taken nectar from. It is also able to dehydrate bacterial cells due to its high sugar content and acidic pH.
Unlike caffeine, honey can increase nitric oxide, which is also anti-inflammatory. The other anti-inflammatory effects of honey come from its prostaglandin-inhibiting abilities, antioxidant effects, and its ability to speed up healing, which reduces the “need” for inflammation.
Even though it may seem strange that a mixture of coffee and honey can stop coughs that often call for prescription drugs, the combination has plenty of research to support its efficacy.