Health

Wait — Can Marshmallows Actually Help A Sore Throat?

What to know before reaching into your pantry.

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Sore throats are the worst, and there are hundreds of folk remedies out there to make them go away. Gargling salt water, sipping honey — you name it, it's been done. And one home sore throat remedy perennially popular on lifestyle blogs might catch your attention: marshmallows. Yep, the smores-essential, cook-over-the-campfire, perfect-in-hot-chocolate edible sweets. But experts caution that eating marshmallows for your sore throat is not quite what it seems.

On the surface, the ingredients in marshmallows seem like they'd be good for sore throats. They contain gelatin and glucose, and are soft and sweet on the sore, aching lining of your larynx and tonsils. But they won't do much to heal you. "Unfortunately, store-bought marshmallows do not soothe a sore throat," Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh M.D., an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center, tells Bustle. Gelatin has been linked to tissue and collagen repair in people with inflammatory conditions, but it doesn't appear to show any benefit for infected throat linings.

While modern marshmallows won't do any good, the theory might have its roots in a far older sore throat remedy. Old-school marshmallows were made using derivatives from the marshmallow herb, Althaea officinalis, an African and European plant with roundish leaves and small flowers. The leaves and roots of this herb have historically been used to treat swelling in the respiratory system, as well as coughing and even laryngitis. Marshmallows were originally made from the sap of the plant.

"Marshmallow root can soothe a sore throat by creating a protective coat on the surface of the mouth and throat," Dr. Mehdizadeh says. A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2020 found that this soothing layer produced by extract of marshmallow root reduced throat irritation and helped the respiratory system to heal faster.

Store-bought marshmallows no longer have marshmallow root in them, but you might have other herbal throat remedies stashed in a kitchen cupboard. One 2019 study published in American Journal of Otolaryngology found that a medicine containing marshmallow root, chamomile flowers, horsetail herb, walnut leaves, yarrow herb, oak bark, and dandelion herb was effective in helping with recovery of viral tonsillitis in children aged 6 to 18. Many of these substances have been used in folk medicine for their throat-soothing properties, but proper scientific evidence for their effectiveness is still lacking, so always consult with your doctor before taking any herbal remedies. The Food and Drug Agency also doesn't regulate marshmallow root, so it's tough to know if you'll get exactly what's on the label of your supplement jar.

If you're looking for a quick and easy natural remedy for your sore throat, you may want to reach into your cupboard for another sweet treat: honey. "Honey helps soothe sore throat similarly by also coating the surface of the mouth and throat to provide some relief," Dr. Mehdizadeh says. "Honey may also carry some anti-bacterial activity.” A study published in 2020 in PLoS One found that honey could actually reduce throat pain after a tonsillectomy, and research published in American Family Physician in 2019 called honey one of the only safe and effective treatments for sore throats linked to the common cold. And it's delicious. Win.

If you get a sore throat right now, your priority should be your health. “A painful sore throat can be any number of things from an infection to a concerning growth inside the throat," Dr. Mehdizadeh says. "A COVID test may be considered." Break out the honey and talk to your doctor about whether getting tested for COVID-19 might be necessary for you.

Expert:

Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh M.D.

Studies cited:

Bonaterra, G. A., Bronischewski, K., Hunold, P., Schwarzbach, H., Heinrich, E. U., Fink, C., Aziz-Kalbhenn, H., Müller, J., & Kinscherf, R. (2020). Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Phytohustil® and Root Extract of Althaea officinalis L. on Macrophages in vitro. Frontiers in pharmacology, 11, 290. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2020.00290

DeGeorge, K. C., Ring, D. J., & Dalrymple, S. N. (2019). Treatment of the Common Cold. American family physician, 100(5), 281–289.

Popovych, V., Koshel, I., Malofiichuk, A., Pyletska, L., Semeniuk, A., Filippova, O., & Orlovska, R. (2019). A randomized, open-label, multicenter, comparative study of therapeutic efficacy, safety and tolerability of BNO 1030 extract, containing marshmallow root, chamomile flowers, horsetail herb, walnut leaves, yarrow herb, oak bark, dandelion herb in the treatment of acute non-bacterial tonsillitis in children aged 6 to 18 years. American journal of otolaryngology, 40(2), 265–273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjoto.2018.10.012

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