Honey is superior to usual care for improving symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms, the authors of a systematic review and meta-analysis have concluded (18 August 2020)
The research, published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, included 14 randomised controlled trials, 9 of which were in children only. Most interventions were honey but some included honey preparations, such as Grintuss syrup. There were usual care comparators such as diphenhydramine, marketed cough syrups, paracetamol and other supportive care, as well as three placebo-controlled trials.
The team found that honey improved combined symptom scores (three studies), cough frequency (eight studies) and cough severity (five studies) compared with usual care. Two studies indicated that combined symptoms were also improved by honey, compared with placebo, although the authors noted that more high-quality placebo-controlled trials were needed.
The researchers highlighted that doctors have few options available for treating URTI. Meanwhile, honey is cheap, widely available and does not have adverse effects in most people.
“Honey is more effective and less harmful than usual care alternatives and avoids causing harm through antimicrobial resistance,” they concluded.
 Abuelgasim H, Albury C & Lee J. Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 2020. doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111336