An ingredient of chocolate could put a stop to persistent coughs and lead to new, more effective cough medicines, research suggests.
Scientists found the key ingredient, theobromine, is nearly a third more effective in stopping persistent coughs than the leading medicine codeine.
They say it produces fewer side effects than conventional treatment - and would not leave people drowsy.
The research, led by Imperial College London, is published in FASEB journal.
Researcher Professor Peter Barnes said: "Coughing is a medical condition which affects most people at some point in their lives, and yet no effective treatment exists.
"While persistent coughing is not necessarily harmful it can have a major impact on quality of life, and this discovery could be a huge step forward in treating this problem."
The researchers gave 10 healthy volunteers theobromine, a placebo or codeine at different times.
They then exposed the volunteers to capsaicin, a substance used in clinical research to cause coughing.
The concentration of capsaicin required to produce a cough in those people given theobromine was around one third higher when compared with the group receiving a placebo.
When the group received codeine they needed only marginally higher levels of capsaicin to produce coughing, compared with the placebo.
Theobromine works by suppressing vagus nerve activity, which is responsible for causing coughing.
The team also discovered that unlike standard cough treatments, theobromine caused no adverse effects on either the cardiovascular or central nervous systems.
Professor Maria Belvisi, who also worked on the study, said: "Not only did theobromine prove more effective than codeine, at the doses used it was found to have none of the side effects.
"Normally the effectiveness of any treatment is limited by the dosage you can give someone.
"With theobromine having no demonstrated side effects in this study it may be possible to give far bigger doses, further increasing its effectiveness.
"At the same time, theobromine may not have any of the side effects such as drowsiness. This means there will be no restrictions on when it can be taken.
"For example, people using heavy machinery or who are driving should not take codeine, but they could take theobromine."
Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation said: "The results of this research sound very promising.
"Persistant coughing often affects lung disease patients so this could be a progressive step in terms of treating it. Also, it is encouraging to find no adverse effects.
"We would like to see more research done to fully understand the potential of these findings and would advise patients to speak to their GP before changing their medication or treating their cough with chocolate!"
Dr Richard Russell, of the British Thoracic Society, said: "Over-the-counter sales for acute cough medicines currently reach approximately £100m a year in the UK - money that is being spent on remedies, where there is no evidence that they work.
"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."
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