Can Honey Water Help Clear up a Cold, or Was My Grandma Lying to Me?

Photo: Getty Images / Michelle Arnold-EyeEm
When dealing with a cold, most of us are probably mainlining lozenges and tea while reaching for a box of tissues. But anyone dealing with the obnoxious symptoms for more than a few days is probably willing to try anything to feel better—including resorting to random remedies recommended by grandma (or various Reddit forums). One that seems to be getting some traction is honey water.

Honey water is...exactly what it sounds like. “Honey water is simply water with honey dissolved in it. Sometimes, lemon is added, especially when people are using it for a sore throat or immune boost, or to add flavor,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

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Sounds delicious...but can it do anything for you besides tasting good? “Honey has been shown to benefit immune health in a variety of studies,” Jones says. “It contains some antioxidants that contribute to functions that protect the body from stress." She adds that honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that could be helpful, although there are few large clinical trials confirming these benefits. (Read: Don't throw out your meds and replace them with honey.) Manuka honey in particular has extensive cold-fighting potential—it has certain de-congestant and anti-inflammatory properties, Tracey Lockwood Beckerman, RD, previously told Well+Good.

Honey can also be helpful if your cold comes with a side of hacking cough. “The texture of honey also allows it to coat the throat and act as an effective cough suppressant. Several studies have found it to be just as effective as cough syrup in suppressing coughs in children,” Jones says. It's not definitive if those results apply to adults, too, but certainly can't hurt to add some to your tea or water.

Looking for another food that's great when you're sick? Try ginger: 

Honey has a variety of other health benefits that make it beneficial outside of cold and flu season, Jones says.  “Raw honey contains a variety of carbohydrates with some oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates that are not digested, but benefit gut health,” she says. Honey is also rich in B vitamins, iron, and manganese, which are helpful for energy and proper metabolism function. “It also contains antioxidants that likely contribute to overall immune benefits, and a study also showed honey ingestion to be associated with lower levels of prostaglandins, which are markers of inflammation,” she adds.

However, some old wives' tales claim that honey water can be used for healthy weight management. That is definitely not true, says Jones. "There is no scientific evidence that any type of sweetener is correlated with weight loss—even artificial or no calorie sweeteners." Plus, honey is still a sugar and regardless of whether you're adding it to water, tea, or even coffee, it contributes to our daily sugar count. (Friendly reminder that we're only supposed to have 25 grams maximum of added sugars per day.)

“Still, raw honey does have a lower glycemic impact than other sweeteners and since honey tastes sweeter, some people may be apt to use less than if they were using refined sugar,” Jones says. So, for that reason, it might not affect blood sugar levels as much, but it's still smart to be mindful about how much honey you're eating—especially if you're consuming it in honey water when you're sick.

Interested in trying honey water? Honey will dissolve best in warm water, so simply mix in a TBSP of raw honey with 8-12 ounces of warm water and a squeeze of lemon if desired. Then, stir and let dissolve before taking a sip.

The bottom line: Maybe it won’t instantly fix the cold, but honey water has some helpful properties that could help soothe some of the more annoying symptoms, like cough or inflammation.

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