A natural substance that is relatively cheap and can be purchased in supermarkets could be more of an effective way to treat coughs and sore throats than conventional medicine,  researchers have said.

According to a team from the University of Oxford, honey might well be the answer to keeping winter colds at way.

The team have also said that doctors could start recommending the natural ingredient as a suitable alternative to antibiotics to treat infections.

Although honey has long been associated with being a home remedy, no one has ever investigated exactly how effective it might be on upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) which impact the nose, throat, voice box and the large air passages (bronchi) that lead from the windpipe to the lungs.

The newly published study involved looking at 14 clinical trials which had previously compared honey to more conventional care treatments, such as antihistamines, expectorants, cough suppressants and painkillers.

Data analysis of all the research suggested that honey was more effective than the drugs for improving symptoms, especially severe coughing fits.

Two out of the 14 studies also showed that among those who took the natural ingredient made by bees, many experienced fewer symptoms for shorter periods of time by up to two days.

Despite these findings, the lead researchers have warned that honey is a complex ingredient. It is also not suitable to give to children under the age of one.

Writing in the journal British Medical Journal (BMJ), the researchers said: “Upper respiratory tract infections are the most frequent reason for antibiotic prescription. Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate.

“Honey is a frequently used lay remedy that is well known to patients. It is also cheap, easy to access, and has limited harms. When clinicians wish to prescribe for URTI, we would recommend honey as an alternative to antibiotics.

“Honey is more effective and less harmful than usual care alternatives and avoids causing harm through antimicrobial resistance.”

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