A chemical found in chocolate could provide the key to a new breed of cough treatments, according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society's (BTS) Winter Meeting in London earlier this month.
Chocolate has recently grabbed media attention with findings that naturally occurring flavonols, found in cocoa, may improve blood vessel function, believed to be an important indicator of cardiovascular health. The caffeine contained in chocolate is also thought by some to benefit heart health.
Now, researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London have found that another chocolate component, theobromine, may have its uses - in a new study, the chemical was more effective at treating artificially provoked coughs than traditional treatments.
In the study, 10 healthy, non-smokers received theobromine, followed by capsaicin, a cough stimulant, as a means of assessing how sensitive they were to cough. The effect of theobromine was compared to a placebo - and also to codeine, which is used in traditional cough remedies. It was found to be more effective than both in treating the cough.
Dr Omar Sharif Usmani, a respiratory physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute and member of the British Thoracic Society, said: "Over-the-counter sales for acute cough medicines currently reach approximately £100 million a year in the UK - money that is being spent on remedies, where evidence regarding their effectiveness is inconclusive.
"More research is needed into new cough treatments, particularly for persistent cough. Further studies of the effectiveness of theobromine are underway, but at the moment it is premature to say that theobromine can definitely be used to effectively treat cough."
Dr John Harvey, chairman of the communications committee of the British Thoracic Society, commented: "The number of people with undiagnosed chronic cough is increasing in this country - and more effective treatments are needed. The condition can be really distressing and so I hope this research provides a clue for future treatments."
However, he cautioned that it is too early to advise people suffering from coughs to treat themselves with chocolate.
The BTS, the UK's professional body of respiratory specialists, held its Winter Meeting in London from 4-6 December 2002.