What are the health benefits of honey?

Honey is a sweet liquid produced by honey bees using nectar from flowers through a process of regurgitation and evaporation.

Honey has high levels of monosaccharides, fructose and glucose, containing about 70 to 80 percent sugar, which gives it its sweet taste – minerals and water make up the rest of its composition.

The health benefits of consuming honey date back to Greek, Roman, Vedic, and Islamic texts. 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

Honey possesses powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties. In modern science we have managed to find useful applications of honey in chronic wound management.

However, it should be noted that many of honey’s health claims still require further large scale scientific studies to confirm them.

History of honey

Over four thousand years ago, honey was used as a traditional ayurvedic medicine, where it was thought to be effective at treating material imbalances in the body.

In pre-Ancient Egyptian times, honey was used topically to treat wounds. Egyptian medicinal compounds more than five millennia ago used honey.

The ancient Greeks believed that consuming honey could help make you live longer.

Even the Prophet Mohammed glorified the healing powers of honey.

The Quran also praises honey’s healing ability:

“And thy Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought.”

The beneficial properties of honey have been explored in modern times, and there is evidence to suggest that these historical claims may hold some truth.

Properties of honey

Honey is made up of glucose, fructose, and minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphate, sodium chlorine, potassium, magnesium. It is also fairly rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6.

Below is a typical honey profile, according to BeeSource:

Fructose: 38.2%
Glucose: 31.3%
Maltose: 7.1%
Sucrose: 1.3%
Water: 17.2%
Higher sugars: 1.5%
Ash: 0.2%
Other/undetermined: 3.2%

The slightly acidic pH level of honey (between 3.2 and 4.5) is what helps prevent the growth of bacteria, while its antioxidant constituents cleans up free radicals. The physical properties of honey vary depending on the specific flora that was used to produce it, as well as its water content.

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

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).

Infantile gastroenteritis

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. 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.”

Healing wounds and burns

Topically applying honey is an effective way of treating diabetic ulcers (when the person doesn’t respond to antibiotics).

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 remembers thinking “holy mackerel-what a difference. It’s a lot better than having to put oral antibiotics into your system.”

According to a review published in the The Cochrane Library, honey is able to successfully 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.”

Some studies have revealed that a certain type of honey, called “Manuka honey”, may even be effective for the treatment of MRSA infections.

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