Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate helps eliminate cough.

Theobromine, an ingredient in over-the-counter chocolate bars, has shown promise as an anti-coughing agent. 

Researchers have discovered that a chemical compound, theobromine, a methylxanthine commonly found in dark chocolate and other substances derived from the cocoa plant have shown great promise as an anti-cough medication.

Chronic cough is a symptom characteristic of many conditions, and many times it can simply be an irritating burden to the sufferer. Or in the case of kids with colds, it can keep them and their parents up all night.

Current over-the-counter cough remedies contain some kind of opioid, like dextromethorphan or codeine, compounds that may not only cause many side-effects but may also prove to be quite unreliable in dealing with the cough itself.

Researchers tested theobromine on both humans and guinea-pigs (not in that order, that would be inhumane) by using capsaicin and citric-acid, irritants that stimulate the cough reflex. This is a common method used to study the proper inhibition of coughs by medications. The cough reflex has been linked to vagus nerve and sensory nerve stimulation yet most scientists are still trying to determine the exact mechanisms responsible for long-term coughs brought on by many different conditions.

In this study theobromine was shown to inhibit both sensory and vagus nerve depolarization in test-test tube conditions, but the difficulty of reproducing and checking this in live organisms still remains elusive so it's unknown whether this is the main mechanism behind theorbomine's success. The studies, regardless of the mechanisms, demonstrate that it works however; a huge plus for cough sufferers everywhere.

The levels of Theobromine in over-the-counter chocolate bars however might be quite small . But the good news is that it's quite high in chocolate pudding (74.8mg / serving) and chocolate milk (0.011 mg / g). Despite these levels you're most likely not going to be picking up snacks when you're sick just yet. You would have to eat about 12 chocolate pudding cups just to get the amount needed to suppress your cough...something I'm actually looking forward to.

The sad part is that you would most likely be taking this form of medication in a non-edible form or at best as really really bitter dark chocolate. But I return to my chocolate fantasy for a final thought:  

As a long-time lover of chocolate, I for one welcome this news as something extremely positive. It provides another reason to reach for a chocolate bar at random times with the most minuscule of excuses as to why I'm actually eating so much. Next time, I'll just say I'm taking my medicine.


Usmani O, Belvisi MG, Patel HJ, et al. (2004). Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough. FASEB J; 19: 231-233.

Halfdanarson TR, Jatoi A, (2008). Chocolate as a Cough Suppressant: Rationale and Justification for an Upcoming Clinical Trial. Supportive Cancer Therapy; 4(2): 119-122.

Dicpinigaitis PV, (2010). Inhalation Cough Challenge. Respiratory Medicine Reviews; 6(2): 142-147(6).

Craig WJ, Nguyen TT, (2006). Caffeine and Theobromine Levels in Cocoa and Carob Products. J Food Science; 49(1): 302-303.

Ben-Menachem, Elinor (2001). Vagus Nerve Stimulation, Side Effects, and Long-Term Safety. J Clin Neurophys; 18(5): 415-418.


  1. Chocolate doesn't help eliminate coughing, because it doesn't contain enough of the active ingredient.

    So why use such an inaccurate headline?

  2. Dave, did you actually read the article at all? That article obviously pointed out that the level of Theobromine is very small in over-the-counter chocolate. Therefore, you must consume a great quantity of dark chocolate before some effect starts to take place. Before that then, you may have chance to get diabetes before you can actually cure your simple cough.