It's that time again: Chilly weather starts to creep in, a tingle forms in your throat and then — a cough. Rather than reach for the medicine cabinet, a cup of hot water with lemon and honey for cough issues may be a more natural way to help. Here's why this trio works and how to make it.
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Lemon Honey Water for a Cough
According to Brigham and Women's Hospital, a cough is a reflux designed to help clear phlegm that is built up in your throat and airways. Some common causes of cough, per Brigham, range from environmental irritants to such conditions as:
- Cold or flu.
- Upper respiratory infections.
- Lung cancer or diseases.
Brigham notes that having an occasional cough is normal, but if your cough lingers for weeks or comes with discolored or bloody mucus, it's time to chat with your doctor.
Even without underlying conditions, a cough can be uncomfortable and irritating. To help minimize that discomfort, according to experts, drinking a combination of lemon juice, honey and hot water (aka honey lemon water) can help provide relief and be a comforting home remedy.
"Honey is soothing on the throat, lemon boosts immunity and water keeps us hydrated and helps to flush toxins out of the body, keep the body cool and supports overall wellbeing," says Amy Shapiro, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder and director of the New York City-based private practice Real Nutrition. "So pairing them together can help to assist in cough reduction."
Benefits of Lemon Honey Water
How does this drink take action against your cough? "Lemon is very high in vitamin C and therefore can boost immunity, increase the production of white blood cells to fight infection and may reduce the duration of your cough," Shapiro says.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one wedge or slice of lemon yields enough juice to provide 3.7 milligrams of vitamin C. And if you squeeze half a lemon, that's worth 9.3 milligrams of C, USDA says. For context, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C is 90 milligrams for adult males and 75 milligrams for females, Office of Dietary Supplements reports.
Shapiro also recommends you "rinse your mouth out regularly to remove acid and decrease enamel erosion."
And what about honey? In a December 2014 study published in Canadian Family Physician, researchers found that honey was shown to reduce coughs in length and frequency in children. However, honey is not recommended for infants under the age of one due to the risk of botulism, a rare but serious illness that's caused by a toxin that attacks the body's nerves, which can cause difficulty breathing, paralysis and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Honey can help by soothing your throat when it's irritated from coughing. "Honey's ability to coat the throat can reduce mucus secretion and decrease cough sensation," Shapiro says. Honey is a natural source of sugar, though, so while a spoonful of "sugar" can help the medicine go down, it's best not to overdo it, Shapiro says. A little goes a long way.
But will any old lemon or honey work? Lemon and honey are simple ingredients you might already have at home, but fresh is always best, Shapiro says. "You want all of the antimicrobial effects of honey and the freshest lemon juice, as antioxidants and vitamin C can diminish as it sits shelf stable or exposed to light," she says.
According to a November 2018 study in AIMS Microbiology, in comparison to other types of honey, manuka honey has an added antimicrobial component that helps boost its healing benefits.
How to Make Lemon Honey Water for a Cough
Ready to whip up a mug of lemon honey water for some throat relief? Shapiro suggests keeping fresh lemons and raw or manuka honey for cough relief in stock. Here's her recipe:
- Juice from 1/2 fresh lemon.
- 1 tsp. of raw honey.
- 8-10 oz. of warm water.
- Heat warm water in a kettle or microwave to a temperature that's warm, but not scalding.
- Squeeze in lemon juice, then mix in honey until dissolved.
- For best results, drink while warm.
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “What Is a Cough?”
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CND, registered dietitian; founder and director, private practice, Real Nutrition, New York City
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Lemons”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- Canadian Family Physician: “Honey for Treatment of Cough in Children”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Botulism”
- AIMS Microbiology: “Antibacterial Activity of Manuka Honey and Its Components: An Overview”
- USDA: "Lemons"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.