One of nature’s sweetest "superfoods", honey has been a mainstay in people’s lives for centuries. Not only is it tasty in foods such as oatmeal, pancakes and baklava, it has also been used as a healing tool by people from all cultures, from speeding the mending of wounds to treating a bad cough. But unlike many "old wives’ tales," many studies have shown that honey truly is a healing balm, with plenty of data to back up their claims.
Honey Heals Wounds
Honey is an excellent source of antioxidants, which scavenge the free radicals that harm our cells with oxidative damage. It also has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. This is no doubt a major reason why it has been used in the healing of wounds. Physicians are now turning to honey as an alternative to antibiotics, as it has been shown to be more effective, particularly in cases of drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA. A study published in the journal Microbiology found that even a small amount of manuka honey was enough to kill the majority of the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria inhabiting a wound.
In addition to its antibacterial aspects, its hygroscopic (water-attracting) properties help to heal wounds by removing excess fluid. The drier a wound is, the faster it heals, as bacteria thrive in a wet environment.
A study conducted in India found that honey was more effective for burn treatment than silver sulfadiazine, which is the standard in the medical treatment of burns. The researchers noted that 91% of the study’s 104 patients who had first-degree burns were infection-free after only a week of honey treatment, in comparison with only 7 percent of the patients who were conventionally treated. Burns were also observed to heal more quickly with honey than when conventional treatment was used.
Honey Guards Against Cancer
A University of California at Davis study involved researchers giving four tablespoons per day of buckwheat honey over a 29-day period to 25 study volunteers. The researchers found a positive association between the consumption of honey and an increase in their blood level of antioxidant polyphenols, which are useful for the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Honey three caffeic acid esters have been shown to guard against the development of colon cancer: phenylethyl caffeate, methyl caffeate and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. These esters work by stopping the activity of two specific substances that encourage cancer development.
More on Honey’s Health Benefits
There was an International Symposium on Honey and Human Health in 2008, in which researchers presented some of their most recent findings:
• Honey is more effective than dextromethorphan in treating nighttime coughs, according to a study conducted on 105 children who had an upper respiratory tract infection. A single dose of buckwheat honey was given to the children before bed, which was effective in reducing the cough and allowed them to sleep better.
• A study involving several Israeli hospitals found that honey boosts the immune system by stimulating white blood cell production. The researchers found that cancer patients who ate honey regularly had fewer infections. Other studies on honey’s effect on the immune system found four different forms of bifidobacteria and six different types of lactobacilli in a variety of honeys.
• The body finds it easier to processes honey than sugar. Although both contain glucose and fructose, honey’s ratio of one to the other is optimal for the liver’s metabolism of glucose, causing blood sugar to be more even and reducing the sensitivity to insulin. In a year-long study conducted on rats, which compared the effects of sucrose, honey and a low-GI diet, researchers found that those rats that followed the honey diet had less body fat, less anxiety, a reduced rate of weight gain, better memory, higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, better blood sugar and less oxidative damage than the rats that were fed other diets.
Raw honey (which has not been processed and retains its pollen, propolis and fragments of honeycomb) has the greatest health benefits. Processed honey has to be heated for pasteurization, which destroys many of its delicate health-enhancing enzymes such as amylase, which aids in the digestion of starchy foods. It is then filtered to make it clear and easy to pour (removing many of its healthful ingredients as well). Your generic supermarket honey is still good for you, but not nearly as good as the raw stuff.
Although honey is healthful for most people, keep in mind that children who are under the age of one year should never be given honey, as there is a slight risk of botulism. Raw honey can generally be found at your local health food store, farmers’ market or even better, get it at the source – your local beekeeper!