Theobromine, an ingredient in chocolate, could be used to stop persistent coughs, researchers said yesterday.

Theobromine, an ingredient in chocolate, could be used to stop persistent coughs, researchers said yesterday.

The compound, which comes from cocoa, was nearly a third more effective in stopping persistent coughs than codeine, now considered the best cough medicine.

The researchers, from Imperial College, London, tested 10 healthy volunteers who were given theobromine, codeine or a dummy pill. Capsaicin, used in research to cause coughing, was given to them and the level needed to produce a cough measured.

The team found when the volunteers were given theobromine, the level of capsaicin needed to produce a cough was about a third higher when compared to the placebo. When they were given codeine they needed only marginally higher levels of capsaicin to cause a cough compared to the placebo.

Professor Peter Barnes said: "Coughing is a medical condition that affects most people at some point in their lives, and yet no effective treatment exists. This discovery could be a huge step forward."

In the online FASEB Journal, the researchers said theobromine worked by suppressing vagus nerve activity. Unlike other treatments, theobromine caused no adverse effects on the cardiovascular or central nervous systems.

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