HONEY (medicinal benefits)
SWEETENER OF HONEY
Honey has been valued as a natural sweetener long before sugar became widely available in the 16th century. Honey production flourished in ancient Greece and Sicily, for instance, while animals other than humans – bears, badgers, and more – have long raided honeybee hives, risking stings for the sweet reward.
Honey is truly a remarkable substance, made even more extraordinary by the process with which it is made. This blend of sugar, trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids is quite unlike any other sweetener on the planet.
HOW HONEY IS MADE (Fascinating!)
It takes about 60,000 bees, collectively traveling up to 55,000 miles and visiting more than 2 million flowers, to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey.
Once the nectar is gathered, the bee stores it in its extra stomach where it mixes with enzymes, and then passes it (via regurgitation) to another bee’s mouth. This process is repeated until the nectar becomes partially digested and is then deposited into a honeycomb.
Once there, the honeybees fan the liquid nectar with their wings, helping the water to evaporate and create the thick substance you know as “honey.” This honeycomb is then sealed with a liquid secretion from the bee’s abdomen, which hardens into beeswax. As Live Science reported:
“Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.”
There are more than 300 kinds of honey in the US, each with a unique color and flavor that is dependent upon the nectar source. Lighter colored honeys, such as those made from orange blossoms, tend to be milder in flavor while darker-colored honeys, like those made from wildflowers, tend to have a more robust flavor.
ANCIENT MEDICINAL HISTORY OF HONEY
Indeed, medicinal importance of honey has been documented in the world’s oldest medical literatures, and since the ancient times.
The possible health benefits of consuming honey have been documented in early Greek, Roman, Vedic, and Islamic texts and the healing qualities of honey were referred to by philosophers and scientists all the way back to ancient times, such as Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and Aristoxenus (320 BC).
Honey has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years – the Ancient Greeks used it, and so have many other peoples through the ages. Even up to the Second World War, honey was being used for its antibacterial properties in treating wounds. But with the advent of penicillin and other antibiotic drugs in the twentieth century, honey’s medicinal qualities have taken a back seat.
RESEARCH & HEALTH BENEFITS OF HONEY
Modern science is finding that many of the historical claims that honey can be used in medicine may indeed be true. In the Bible (Old Testament), King Solomon said, “My son, eat thou honey, for it is good”, and there are a number of reasons why it may be good.
Acid reflux Of Honey
Professor Mahantayya V Math, from MGM Medical College, Kamothe, Navi Mumbai, India, explained in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) that, as it is 125.9 more viscous than distilled water at 37 celsius (body temperature), honey may be helpful in preventing GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux).3
Infantile gastroenteritis Of Honey
E. Haffejee and A. Moosa reported in the BMJ on a clinical study in which they used honey in oral rehydration solution in children and infants with gastroenteritis. Their aim was twofold:
Determine whether honey might affect the duration of acute diarrhea
Evaluate honey as a glucose substitute in oral rehydration
They found that honey shortens the duration of bacterial diarrhea in infants and young children.4 They added that honey does not prolong non-bacterial diarrhea duration, and “may safely be used as a substitute for glucose in oral rehydration solution containing electrolytes.”
Honey For Healing wounds and burns
There have been some cases in which people have reported positive effects of using honey in treating wounds. Hurlburt, a borderline diabetic, with recurring cellulitis and staph infections tried taking antibiotics for months. However, they failed to alleviate the symptoms. Hulburt’s physician, Jennifer Eddy of UW Health’s Eau Claire Family Medicine Clinic, suggested that she should try topically applying honey. Soon after applying the honey, she began to feel better.
Hulburt said that she remembered thinking “holy mackerel-what a difference. It’s a lot better than having to put oral antibiotics into your system.”
A review published in The Cochrane Library indicated that honey may be able to help heal burns, the lead author of the study said that “topical honey is cheaper than other interventions, notably oral antibiotics, which are often used and may have other deleterious side effects.”
However, it should be stressed that there is a lack of evidence to fully support this claim. In fact, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that applying medical grade honey to wounds of patients has no advantage over normal antibiotic among patients undergoing dialysis.
Honey for treating allergies
There is some research to suggest that honey may be useful in minimizing seasonal allergies. The Guardian reported that honey even ‘beats cough medicine’ at alleviating and reducing the frequency of cough.
One placebo-controlled study which included 36 people with ocular allergies, found that participants responded better to treatment with honey compared to placebo. However, a third of them reported that eating a tablespoon of honey every day was hard to tolerate due to its overly sweet taste.
Fighting infections with Honey
In 2010, scientists from the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam reported in FASEB Journal that honey’s ability to kill bacteria lies in a protein called defensin-1. 5
A study published in the journal Microbiology revealed that Manuka honey is effective at treating chronic wound infections and may even prevent them from developing in the first place.
Dr. Rowena Jenkins and colleagues, from the University of Wales Institute, reported that Manuka honey kills bacteria by destroying key bacterial proteins.
Some studies have revealed that a certain type of honey, called “Manuka honey,” may even be effective for the treatment of MRSA infections.
Dr Jenkins concluded:
“Manuka and other honeys have been known to have wound healing and anti-bacterial properties for some time. But the way in which they act is still not known. If we can discover exactly how Manuka honey inhibits MRSA it could be used more frequently as a first-line treatment for infections with bacteria that are resistant to many currently available antibiotics.”
Manuka honey may even help reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics, according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Harrogate, UK.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics, which compared honey to placebo in helping children with cough during night time, found that honey was superior. The researchers concluded “Parents rated the honey products higher than the silan date extract for symptomatic relief of their children’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to URI (upper respiratory infection). Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood URI.”6
Natural honey better at killing bacteria than artificial honey – Kendall Powell wrote in the journal Nature that “natural honey kills bacteria three times more effectively” than an artificial honey solution of the same thickness and sugar concentration.7
Honey and the Common Cold
Maryland family doctor Ariane Cometa, MD, who describes herself as a holistic practitioner, likes to use a buckwheat honey-based syrup to ease early symptoms of a cold. She says it calms inflamed membranes and eases a cough — the latter claim supported by a few studies.
In a study that involved 139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep.
Another study involving 105 children found that buckwheat honey trumped dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs.
“If you’re suffering from a cold or something going on in the throat or upper airways, getting on board with honey syrup will help fight infection and soothe membranes,” says Cometa, who also recommends a buckwheat honey-based allergy medicine.
Honey and Diabetes
Even if honey is natural, it is no better than ordinary white or brown sugar for dieters or people with diabetes, says dietitian Toby Smithson, RD, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and founder of the web site, Diabetes Everyday.
A tablespoon of honey, in fact, has more carbohydrates and calories than granulated white or brown sugar.
“One of my favorite quotes is that ‘a sugar is a sugar’ when it comes to diabetes,” Smithson says. “I think it’s a widespread myth that honey is better for diabetes. Some patients don’t classify honey as a sugar.”
Smithson, who has type 1 diabetes, says she prefers getting carbs from a cup of fresh berries or a carton of yogurt because they have about the same number of carbs as a tablespoon of honey — but less sugar.
“There are some minerals and vitamins and antioxidant properties in honey — the darker the honey, the higher the level of antioxidants — but with yogurt, you can also get those benefits. When you have diabetes, you have to be picky and choosy about carbs and calories.”
Honey Help Boost Your Energy
A healthy, whole-food diet and proper sleep is the best recipe for boundless energy, but if you’re looking for a quick energy boost, such as before or after a workout, honey can suffice. This is particularly true for athletes looking for a “time-released fuel” to provide energy over a longer duration.
HONEY’S OTHER POSSIBLE USES IN MEDICINE
New research is always finding new possible uses of honey in treating certain conditions and diseases. One study found that Manuka honey may prevent radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients.
Honey Should Be Consumed Only in Moderation
Honey has many healthy attributes, but it is also high in fructose, averaging around 53 percent. Each teaspoon of honey has nearly four grams of fructose, which means it can exacerbate pre-existing insulin resistance and wreak havoc on your body if consumed in excess. So when consuming honey, carefully add the total grams of fructose (including fruits) that you consume each day, and stay below 25 grams of total fructose per day.
Keep in mind, though, that if you have insulin resistance (i.e. if you are taking drugs for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, or if you’re overweight) you’d be better off avoiding all sweeteners, including honey, since any sweetener can decrease your insulin sensitivity and worsen your insulin resistance. If you’re healthy, however, eating raw honey in moderation could provide many of the benefits listed above.