Got too cozy with someone dripping phlegm on the subway, or accidentally touched the faucet handle after your coughing, sneezing, red-nosed coworker smeared their germs all over it? Doom has set in. Soon, you too, will be watery-eyed and clearing your throat every 15 seconds, blowing your nose on your pillowcase in the middle of the night, forgetting what it feels like to be well.
It's cold season. Which means it's coughing season. And it's the pits.
But there's a silver lining to this annual cloud. While normally we turn to lozenges, capsules, and semi-psychotropic syrups to assuage our congestion and self-pity in these hard times, we now may have an excuse to try a decidedly different remedy: chocolate.
Professor Alyn Morice, who is the head of cardiovascular and respiratory studies at the University of Hull, recently offered comment and confirmation on the results of a study (cutely called ROCOCO) that tested the efficacy of a chocolate-based cough medicine and will be published later this year. And the results are looking good!
Although Morice was not involved in the study itself, he is "an international authority on cough and the mechanism of cough" who established the UK's first specialist cough clinic. He is also a founding member of the International Society for the Study of Cough, according to the Daily Mail. And Morice has some fabulous news for chocoholics with shoddy immune systems: believe the hype.
The study, a randomized controlled trial, oversaw 163 patients and was the "largest real-world study of an over-the-counter cough remedy ever undertaken in Europe."
Patients suffering from cold- and cough-like symptoms felt significantly better within just two days when taking the chocolate-based medicine. The texture of chocolate also creates a coating in the throat, serving as a surprisingly effective cough suppressant. The cocoa-based formula also worked better than conventional cough medicine in the study.
"I know that might sound like something out of Mary Poppins, but as an independent clinician who has spent years researching the mechanism of cough, I can assure you the evidence is actually as solid a bar of Fruit and Nut," Morice said.
An earlier study at Imperial College in London also demonstrated that a compound found in cocoa called theobromine was more effective as a cough suppressant than codeine, one of the most widely used drugs used today for severe coughs.
Marketed under the name Unicough, the cocoa-based trial medicine not only dramatically reduced coughing fits and sleep disruption within just 48 hours, but also resulted in twice as many patients ending their treatments early because their symptoms were so successfully alleviated.
Researchers from the study argue that chocolate works so well in this application because of its stickiness, or "demulcent properties," which soothe nerve endings in the throat so you don't get that miserable itch to cough. It also ensures that the other cough-fighting compounds in the medicine stay put.
Morice warns, however, that drinking hot cocoa will likely not offer you the same relief as taking the drug, since you sip it down quickly and it doesn't have a chance to adhere to the interior of your throat and protect your distressed little nerve endings.
"Slowly sucking on a piece of chocolate may provide some relief," Morice writes, "but I think it is the way the chocolate compounds work with other ingredients in the linctus which make it so effective."
Plus, the eternal companion to hot chocolate—marshmallows—are also purported to have cough-suppressing properties (though typically the reference is to marshmallow root, not the store-bought corn-syrup pseudocandies, which have more debatable benefits). Let's make some s'mores and call it a win-win!
Sorry, lovers of sizzurp. You can get slurry all you want, but you might want to fall in love with the cocoa instead.