A Study Finds that Theobromine, a Substance in Chocolate, May Be the Safest and Most Effective Cough Suppressant

Who would’ve guessed the best cough medicine to stop a chronic cough would also be the most delicious? Cough medicine, infamous for its disagreeable taste, is facing some tough competition from a substance in chocolate called theobromine. A recent study has indicated that the theobromine content in dark chocolate may indeed be the most effective and safest cough suppressant around.

In a cough suppressant study performed by London’s National Heart and Lung Institute, chocolate’s theobromine significantly outperformed codeine, the primary active ingredient in prescription cough medicine. Participants in the study were treated at different times with a placebo, codeine, and theobromine before being exposed to capsaicin via an inhaled gas. Capsaicin, a chili pepper derivative, has long been used to induce coughing in clinical research.

As a cough medicine, codeine (mostly known as a painkiller) had nominal success compared to the placebo, but theobromine was 33 percent more effective than codeine to stop coughing. Theobromine was found to work directly on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for triggering coughing. Researchers found nearly identical results in guinea pigs as in humans.

Beyond theobromine’s increased efficacy, it’s safer than over-the-counter and prescription cough medicines. Cough medicine is rarely harmful, but can have minor side effects; most common are drowsiness, constipation, and dry mouth. We’ve been conditioned not to operate heavy machinery after taking cough medicine. It is, however, perfectly safe to eat dark chocolate in your crane, forklift, or other industrial vehicles, provided you’re still paying attention. Theobromine has not been connected to any side effects (though it should be noted that the substance has just begun to be studied in the past few years).

Dark chocolate is also an appealing alternative to children’s cough medicine for parents who prefer not to give their children drugs whenever possible. Coughing, a beneficial part of the immune system, is more an irritant than a risk. But because children’s bodies are less able to regulate the appropriate amount of coughing, children are more susceptible to a chronic cough than adults. It should also be a relief to not have to fight with the kids to get them to take their medicine.

The quantity of dark chocolate that should be eaten to stop coughing–about two ounces for an adult and about half as much for a child–is not enough to get children wound up, or for the minimal caffeine to cause sleep disturbances.

Theobromine levels are directly related to the cocoa content in chocolate. Milk chocolate contains little theobromine, while dark chocolate usually has about 400 to 450 mg of theobromine per ounce. Thus, to stop a chronic cough, or even a coughing fit, eating dark chocolate with as high a percentage of cocoa as possible is preferable when using chocolate as a cough suppressant. Or, to put it another way, the higher the cocoa content, the less chocolate needed to stop coughing.

Though not generally dangerous, cold and cough medicines do have one considerable drawback: they suppress symptoms, but there is considerable evidence that they simultaneously interfere with the immune system. Untreated colds generally last from four to seven days, while those treated with medicines usually last from 10 to 14 days. Theobromine has not been found to have similar negative effects on the immune system.

Since these things ought to be said: a chronic cough can be a symptom of a serious ailment. While eating dark chocolate will provide some relief, it’s not a replacement for a doctor or prescribed medications. Persistent coughing for more than a week does call for a doctor’s visit, as it can indicate pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer, tuberculosis, heart failure, or numerous other problems.

So the next time you’re coughing, whether it’s a cold or a chronic cough, try eating some dark chocolate. It has a viable claim to being the best cough medicine; it’s delicious, and theobromine seems to be the most effective, safest cough suppressant there is. Theobromine will likely turn up as the base ingredient in new cough medicines in the future, as pharmaceutical companies will undoubtedly be eager to cash in on the new findings once they are properly verified. Until then, embrace dark chocolate and theobromine as a welcome natural alternative to over-the-counter and prescription cough medicine, and even children’s cough medicine.

Published by Ejm

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