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Plenty of supposed flu remedies do not actually work, but honey is an exception — with research showing that it can both help fight the flu virus and soothe your sore, coughing, throat.

Between five and 20 percent of US residents will fall victim to the flu each year, and folks will visit their doctors over 31 million times because they have the flu [1]. There may just be about that same number of urban myths and old wives' tales about the flu, ways to prevent it, and things you can do to remedy it. 

Among the things that either definitely or probably don't help treat the flu are homeopathic preparations [2], elderberry [3], and zinc supplements [4]. Alcohol won't help you treat the flu either, nor can you sweat your flu away by going to the sauna — both these things just increase your risk of dehydration. 

Here at SteadyHealth, we're pretty skeptical — though we also believe that pseudoscientic home remedies that don't harm you may be useful as placebos in some cases — so when we say that honey may play more of a role in flu treatment and recovery than you think, we're not being all "woo". That's to say, the evidence is pretty solid. What do you need to know?

Research shows that honey has flu-fighting properties

Honey is well-known to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, which is why it can be used as an alternative to cold sore medication [5], play a role in treating rubella [6] (though people should still be vaccinated!), and is even used as part of wound dressings, including in hospital settings [7]. 

When it comes to the flu, research supports the idea that honey in general, and Manuka honey (a specific kind of honey produced in New Zealand and Australia) has a powerful anti-flu action [8]. This means that incorporating it in your diet somehow may both help prevent the flu and help people who already have it recover more quickly. 

Honey is excellent against sore throats and coughs

Although coughs and sore throats are more commonly associated with the common cold — for which honey is incidentally also a good remedy [9] — people can experience these symptoms while suffering from influenza too. Studies suggest that honey is a very effective treatment for cough in children [10], as well as sore throats [11]. 

How to use honey as a flu remedy

Because hot liquids play another important role in the treatment of both flu and the common cold — they sooth your sore throat, help with nasal congestion, and prevent dehydration — adding honey to a nice cup of hot tea, with some lemon added too, is a good approach. You can sip on this concoction pretty much all day. Manuka honey is best if you can get your hands on it, but any kind of natural honey will do. 

Because honey can lead to the very serious complication of infant botulism in babies [12], however, be sure not to use honey as a flu remedy in children under a year old. 

Influenza: Prevention is still better than the cure

Although honey can play an important role in helping you feel better when you already have a flu, prevention is still better than the cure. When it comes to influenza, there are two important things you can do to avoid catching it in the first place — getting a flu shot and practicing good hygiene. 

Though the flu shot changes every year, and it isn't always incredibly effective, it still reduces your odds of ending up with the flu, an illness that can indeed be very serious. By getting a flu shot, you also help protect vulnerable people who are much more likely than you to suffer from serious complications, including, potentially, death. This is one of the reasons why healthy people should still get a flu shot

Regular and proper handwashing — at least 20 seconds, with soap and water — is the other proactive protective step you can take. Research shows that most people don't wash their hands properly. Don't be one of them, and was your hands not just when you know you're supposed to (after the restroom, before eating and cooking, after sneezing into your hands, etc) but also after being in contact with dirty and potentially flu-harboring surfaces like doorknobs, computer keyboards, elevator buttons, and of course people's hands. If you want to go a step further, you can even wipe hard surfaces down with antibacterial wipes on a regular basis. 

If, despite taking these, by now common-sense, precautions somehow doesn't help you enough to prevent the flu, and you're in bed feeling all kinds of yuck, then welcome that nice cup of honey-laced tea and lemon into your life — and perhaps continue sipping on it after you're all done recovering, too.

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