Guest Author - Deborah Markus
I caught myself a real honey of a cold this winter. Usually these things hit me hard and fast, but this one left me a lingering cough that lasted for weeks. It made it hard to fall asleep and harder to stay that way.
I thought I was being good by going off chocolate while I was sick. Turns out, I might have been going in exactly the wrong direction.
A study conducted by researchers at Imperial College London suggests that theobromine, an ingredient in chocolate, may actually be an effective cough suppressant -- more effective even than codeine.
And theobromine doesn't have the side effects of codeine, which can cause sleepiness, blurry vision, and constipation. So those suffering from chronic coughing could take theobromine without having to worry about driving or working afterward.
In fact, a researcher was quoted by the BBC as saying that one of the more promising results of the study was that theobromine didn't seem to have adverse side effects at all. So not only might it be safer and more comfortable to take than codeine, but it might be possible to give patients bigger doses without worry.
Theobromine is a bitter alkoloid that is closely related to caffeine. Both are naturally present in chocolate, but their effect on human beings is very different. Theobromine doesn't deliver the abrupt wake-up jolt that caffeine does; instead, it induces a mild, pleasant sense of well-being over a longer period of time.
Though theobromine is a stimulant, it seems to help people stop coughing by suppressing activity in the vagus nerve, which is responsible for (among many other things) coughing.
In the British study, theobromine outperformed both codeine and a placebo. The researchers gave volunteers tablets containing one of the three. They then had the subjects inhale a gas containing capsaicin, which causes coughing.
Those who had been given theobromine needed a lot more of the capsaicin (which is a derivative of American pepper plants, which makes me wonder if all those cartoons I used to watch where pepper was used to make bad guys sneeze were closer to the mark than I'd ever suspected) to make them cough.
Unfortunately, the study was so small that it can hardly be called conclusive. Only ten volunteers were tested.
So it's really too soon to say that coughers should fortify themselves with an amount of chocolate -- about half a large bar of chocolate, or two cups of cocoa -- that would give them the equivalent of the theobromine dose given to the test subjects.
Also unfortunately, one of the researchers has been quoted as saying that any medication derived from this and further testing would be a white, flavorless pill.
I suppose it's only fair not to deprive those who are allergic to chocolate of relief. But couldn't there be two flavors available -- plain and chocolate?