Q: Do natural cough remedies work?
A: In 2016, Health Canada warned parents not to give pharmaceutical cold and cough medications like dextromethorphan (DM) to children six years old or younger, because the products “have not been shown to be effective” and, even more troubling, have the potential for “serious harm.”
A 2007 clinical trial found that DM, a common component of many over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, was no more effective than placebo (in other words, no better than no treatment at all).
The authors of that study also concluded that honey was effective—and preferable, given the safety concerns revealed by numerous reports of serious adverse events connected to DM. Remember, though, that children less than a year old should not be given honey.
In addition to honey, many herbs are notable for their effectiveness in relieving colds. Probably best known among them is echinacea, which has been the subject of several clinical trials.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled United Kingdom trial with 673 participants that was conducted over a period of four months found the total number of days with cold episodes was significantly fewer in the group taking echinacea than in the placebo group.
Those on the echinacea regimen experienced 36 colds with a combined duration of 155 days, compared to 58 colds over 268 days in the placebo group, a 58 percent difference. Not only that, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) or ibuprofen was used significantly more often by those taking the placebo herb: 52 percent more often than in the echinacea group.
Coughs are indeed a common occurrence, often affecting both those with colds and those with the flu. If you experience coughs due to a cold or flu this winter, trust your instincts: try a natural cough remedy.