Chocolate compound beats codeine for cough-suppression

A compound found in chocolate outperforms over-the-counter and codeine-based cough-suppressants in clinical trials. The compound, theobromine, was written up in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal following a small placebo-controlled study at Imperial College London. Our GP told us that the best thing for a cough was a spoonful of honey, and it's pretty much all we use around our house (well, that and the vile, repulsive, disgusting, incredibly effective Buckley's Mixture -- but that's a last resort).
The researchers believe theobromine acts on the sensory nerve endings of the vagus nerve, which runs through the airways in the lungs to the brain. Capsaicin stimulates these endings to provoke coughing.

The team explored their hypothesis by looking at theobromine's action on the vagus nerve in separate experiments involving guinea pigs and excised human trachea tissue.

Their results confirmed that theobromine does indeed inhibit the capsaicin-induced sensory nerve depolarisation in the vagus nerve.

Persistent coughs melt away with chocolate (via Amanda Palmer)

(Image: Chocolate, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 26149290@N02's photostream)


  1. That is fine for people who are able to interact with any derivative of cocoa.
    Being one of those who can’t and also being fed up of not being able to go into my local Boots store because of the volatile LINPOOLS in the air, for me this is just one more irritating thing I have to look for in ingredient lists.

    1. what are LINPOOLS? google yields many hits for Barbi-Lin Pools, nothing about volatile allergens.

  2. Last time I looked, none of the otc cough medicines had any efficacy for cough supression over placebo.

    1. That’s why you want to get a cough syrup with Dextromethorphan in it. It won’t help your symptoms, but if you take enough, you won’t really care.

  3. Yeah, but only in small quantities. I bet you I can completely suppress your cough if I had enough codeine.

  4. I’ve been using dark chocolate for coughs (I get horrible coughs with chest colds) for the last 2 years or so after reading a study on theobromine. Perhaps it’s in my head but I would say that it is noticeably effective. I opt for Mint Dark Chocolate as I don’t generally care for high priced bars of “roasted dirt”.

  5. Tea is also rather high in theobromine. It will also benefit in other manners to alleviate one’s cold.

  6. I think most coughs are caused by neglected allergies so honey and lemon is best.

    Any “cold” that starts as the first rains start in autumn and toadstools begin to release spores, or (in UK) in February when the first hazel trees flower are suspect and should be treated as hay fever.

    I get migraine from even 1 grain of cocoa and from touching chocolate wrappers or breathing in the volatile linpools but have been told it isn’t an allergy but is a chemical reaction.

  7. Why don’t we just combine the two.

    It’s not as if anything could go wrong with mixing an incredibly addictive substance with codeine.

  8. Wait, is the Capsaicin they’re talking about the same stuff in hot sauce? So when you really need to avoid coughing, you should avoid spicy foods?

    Not that I was using hot sauce for any sort of cure (except the cure for boredom), but still.

  9. What’s “LINPOOLS”? I google it and get a bunch of links about swimming pools. Also, wha’s this to do with a cobbler?

    1. LINPOOLS are obviously the things evil foreign corporations put in the air in their supermarkets and drug stores to leech the precious bodily fluids of young Americans.

  10. For some reason, this study seems not to apply to me.

    When I eat hot peppers, I usually get a runny nose for a few minutes (no coughing whatsoever), and then I feel great for the rest of the day.

    When I eat chocolate, I usually end up sneezing for some unknown reason.

  11. I don’t know if it’s effective or not, but since I currently have a cough I guess I’ll go experiment…. for Science!

  12. I make a version of chai tea from ingredients in my spice rack when I get a cough. Chocolate powder would make a delicious addition! Normal recipe: tea bag, 1tsp ginger, just a little each of: cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne pepper, clove. put that in boiling water with some soy/milk and sweeten with honey or stevia (i avoid refined sugars when i’m sick).

    placebo, possibly. but if it fails at least it’s tasty!

  13. how about chocolates with a “vile, repulsive, disgusting, incredibly effective Buckley’s Mixture” filling?

    or just chocolate and codeine ~ that would probably be more fun

  14. I had very bad stomach problems for the last few years, as did my sister. Her doctor diagnosed her problems are being partly related to the vagus nerve, and after some research, I came to the same conclusion for my own problems. (My doc wasn’t as aggressive in diagnosing the source of my problems, only treating the symptoms.) As it happened, I had a major chocolate monkey on my back at the same time. I haven’t been as interested in chocolate since my problems cleared up, so this is an interesting finding. Strange I hadn’t come across this information in the depths of my research.

  15. They were inhaling capsaicin, not eating it. Which seems to confirm what most of us suspected already – snorting finely crushed chili powder would be highly unpleasant.

    Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any information about dosage – how much cocoa do I need to take, how often, to achieve appropriate medicinal levels of theobromine?

    @ Boba Fett Diop – Unfortunately, while DXM’s effect on coughs may be equal to placebo, it has a very real effect on me – inducing nosebleeds. That’s not even on the list of possible side effects that comes with the bottles, I had to search for it, and found it mentioned in a forum for people who drink massive quantities of DXM for fun (shudder).

  16. from what i remember from class, you should take about 50 grams of chocolate that is at LEAST 70% cacao to have the desired effects… i think that was pretty key to mention actually, so we don’t have the cold-sufferers of the world mowing down on snickers at the first sign of cough.

    also, i would only use this in dire straits (i.e. to get to bed, or before a presentation, etc) for a cough has its own agenda- it’s trying to clear your airways of mucus, pathogens, etc- you don’t WANT to suppress it for the most part. then there are “non-productive” (no mucus) coughs that seem to be caused solely by irritation (such as dry, smoker’s coughs), which it may help… but since smoking paralyzes your mucociliary elevator, that cough may be happening for good reason, as well.

    lastly!, the reason most cough suppressants are useful is only due to their “simple syrup” carrier, which is why honey is just as effective (with no side effects). it simply coats your throat. honey also has some amazing antimicrobial properties to boot, so it’s helping you get better in the meantime : )

    – naturopath-in-training (in fact, in the middle of exams, so pardon the hastiness of this message, but i felt compelled to comment!)

  17. LINPOOLS: Lazy Ingrates Needing Personalized, Obsequious (and) Overwheening Levels (of) Service.

    Depending on your neighbourhood, it can be very hard to go shopping without having to worry about when a volatile LINPOOLS will go off on you…

  18. When I was afflicted with a wracking cough that was tearing my lungs apart, a wonderful compassionate doctor in Silicon Valley once fixed me up with two quarts of Actifed-C. I made that stuff last as long as I could.

  19. Seems different people are getting different take-away info from this study.

    To me, it says that eating a hot chilli will probably work against a cough, by swamping the receptor, and making by body then ignore it for a while. Something to try next time I’m annoyed by a cough.

    Failing that, chocolate.

  20. Pei pa koa is pretty decent cough medicine (from herbal as I remembered), great non alcoholic medicine, some western cough medicine are more effective, but this is non drowsy.

    You can access info online @

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