Chocolate Helps Your Cough? The Latest Misleading, Viral Health Story

Written by on February 7, 2019

A study author says his research on chocolate keeps getting misreported. Experts say it’s not unusual for misleading health stories to spread online.

If it sounds too good to be true… it probably isn’t.

Yet, misleading health stories making exaggerated claims continue to be circulated widely online.

The latest in a long line of such stories suggests chocolate can be used as a cough suppressant.

Headlines around the world suggested chocolate is more effective than cough syrup when it comes to treating the common cough, with articles citing a study that reportedly supports this reasoning.

But the man reported as the study’s author says the headlines are grossly misleading.

“It’s totally fabricated. It seems as though the idea that chocolate might help cough has its own life. The story takes a life of its own. It becomes an urban myth,” Alyn Morice, a professor and head of cardiorespiratory studies at Hull York Medical School in the United Kingdom, told Healthline.

The study that’s been misreported in the media was first published in 2016 and involved a chocolate-flavored cough syrup.

But Morice says the suggestion that it was chocolate responsible for a suppression in cough is untrue.

Experts says a reduction in cough was more likely due to the demulcent in the medicine, which provides a soothing effect, or the fact that the syrup contained an antihistamine.

“Every year now at about this time of year, which, of course, is the cough and cold season in the Northern Hemisphere, it reappears,” Morice said.

“It’s caused a lot of discussion. My secretary has been looking at the comments page of our own local paper, and 400 people have commented on this. Some say, ‘Yes, chocolate works for me,’ and maybe it works for them and that’s fine by me, but scientifically there is no evidence it will work,” he said.

Not the first time

Morice’s study isn’t the first to be inaccurately reported and circulated widely.

Dr. Nina Shapiro is a professor of head and neck surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and author of the book “Hype,” which explores exaggerated health claims.

She says inaccurate health stories come up all the time.

“It happens often because you can take one piece of information or one result from a study that could be a side result or small factor, but you can take that information and blow it out of proportion to make it media-friendly and popular to the lay population,” Shapiro told Healthline.

“It’s very easy to misinterpret a good study or the connotations of the data. Even if it is a solid piece of work, it can easily be looked at tangentially where the information is completely turned upside down,” she said. -healthline

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