Honey more effective at treating common colds, coughs than antibiotics, medications - research

It turns out that age-old suggestion of "hot lemon and honey" might have more merit than you think. Photo credit: Getty.

If you've ever rolled your eyes at someone recommending you a hot lemon and honey drink to treat your sore throat, you may have to rethink reaching for antibiotics instead. 

New research by Oxford University has found that common household ingredient honey is not only delicious on toast, it can be more effective at treating coughs and colds than antibiotics or over-the-counter medication.

In a paper published this week in the British Medical Journal, researchers reviewed studies comparing the effectiveness of honey against cough suppressants, antihistamines and painkillers when treating upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms - including coughs and colds.

Honey was found to be 'superior' at relieving coughs, sore throats and congestion - on average 44 percent more effective at reducing cough severity than common medications.

This is down to honey's anti-microbial property hydrogen peroxide which helps kill bacteria, while its thick and sticky consistency has a soothing effect on the throat. 

"Honey was superior to usual care for the improvement of symptoms of URTIs. It provides a widely available and cheap alternative to antibiotics," the study reads.

"URTIs are the most frequent reason for antibiotic prescription. Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate."

Earlier this year Kiwi scientists showed concern at the rate at which Kiwi doctors are still prescribing antibiotics - over twice the rate of some other countries.

While antibiotics are useless against viruses, GPs often feel pressured into prescribing them to satisfy patients, said Mark Thomas, the co-author of the study looking at antibiotic use in New Zealand.

"We're using about twice as much as is used in Norway, Sweden or Denmark, and we're using about a quarter more per head of population than is used in the UK," he told Newshub.

"Patients have got into the habit of expecting to be prescribed antibiotics for coughs and colds and other conditions where antibiotics don't make a blind bit of difference." 

It might be time to reach for the mānuka instead.