The health benefits of honey

By Henrylito D. Tacio

A teaspoon of honey before bed seems to calm children’s coughs and help them sleep better, according to a new American study that relied on parents’ reports of their children’s symptoms.

What is remarkable is the fact that the folk remedy did better than cough medicine or no treatment in a three-way comparison.  Honey may work by coating and soothing an irritated throat, the study said.  “Many families are going to relate to these findings and say that grandma was right,” noted Dr. Ian Paul of Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine who headed the study.

Honey has been used as a folk remedy for ages for ailments ranging from allergies to indigestion.   The body of Alexander the Great is said to have been preserved in honey.   John the Baptist lived for a long period of time in the wilderness on a diet consisting of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4).

Honey is composed of sugars like glucose and fructose and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, iron and phosphate.  It contains vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3 all of which change according to the qualities of the nectar and pollen. In addition, copper, iodine, and zinc exist in it in small quantities. Several kinds of hormones are also present in it.

“Honey is a treat, and is man’s oldest sweetener,” someone once wrote.  “It is an excellent substitute for sugar in our drinks and food. It is also good for many medicinal uses and treating certain conditions.”

For at least 2700 years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments.  But it’s only in recent times that scientists have been investigating the use of honey in modern medicine. 

In Hamilton, New Zealand, scientists at the honey research unit of the University of Waikato have found that honey kills a wide range of bacteria.  Part of honey’s antibacterial activity can be explained by what’s known as an “osmotic” or “water-withdrawing” effect.   Honey reportedly has a density of about 1.36 kilogram per liter (that’s 40% denser than water!).

“Honey has very little water – that’s what makes it thick and gooey – whereas bacteria are made mostly of water,” explained Dr. Peter Molan, professor of biological sciences and the unit’s director.  “So when certain kinds of bacteria come into contact with honey, the honey basically sucks the water out of the bacteria like a sponge, and the bacteria die.”

Even though honey tastes sweet, it’s actually quite acidic.  The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5.  This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria.

Do you have a cut?  Honey is therefore a natural antiseptic. Medical journals cite more than 600 cases in which honey was employed to treat wounds. By applying honey to your wounds, you prevent infections. Honey contains antimicrobial agents, which prevents infections by killing the bacteria in and around your wounds.

Instructs ‘The Folk Remedy Encyclopedia : Olive Oil, Vinegar, Honey and 1,001 Other Home Remedies’:  “When using honey it may help to heat it up before putting it on your wound (caution test the heat before you place it on the wound). Many types of bacteria can’t survive in honey, so wounds heal, swelling eases, and tissue can grow back.”

Some studies suggest that the topical use of honey may reduce odors, swelling, and scarring when used to treat wounds; it may also prevent the dressing from sticking to the healing wound. 

Honey may also be good for your skin. It has the ability to attract water. It is also safe for sensitive skin.   Health experts recommend: Just mix one teaspoon of honey with one teaspoon of olive oil and one-half teaspoon of lemon juice. Apply to hands, elbows, heels of your foot, among others, and wash off after 15 minutes.

You can also use honey as mouthwash by mixing one tablespoon of honey with a cup of warm water.  Honey reportedly cleans teeth and dentures, and kills germs in the mouth.  Also, honey works well on chapped lips and for acne because it has antibacterial properties.

Honey may also be effective in the treatment of ulcers. In Europe, honey has been used internally to help cure ulcers, particularly stomach ulcers.  Experts recommend taking 1-2 teaspoons of honey on an empty stomach (at least half an hour before meals).  This should be done one to four times a day “to assist in healing and provide pain relief.”  Before doing so, however, be sure you have no other ailments.

Burns, too, heal better with honey, some studies show. The advantage of honey is that it not only prevents infections from occurring, it actually accelerates skin healing.  Since the sugar in honey absorbs water it helps to trap some of the moisture so that the bacteria and other microbes can’t grow as easily as in other food.

From ‘Honey: The Gourmet Medicine’ comes this information: “Honey provides an important part of the energy needed by the body for blood formation. In addition, it helps in cleansing the blood. It has some positive effects in regulating and facilitating blood circulation. It also functions as a protection against capillary problems and arteriosclerosis.”

Here’s a word of caution: Due to the natural presence of some spores which cannot be destroyed by their digestive tracts, children under one year of age should not be given honey. Infants, on the other hand, can contract botulism from honey.

Honey produced from some flowers may cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death. Honey intoxication is more likely when using “natural” unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources generally dilutes any toxins.

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2 responses to “The health benefits of honey

  1. Very interesting article. I was researching the use of honey mixed with olive oil to relieve coughs. Have you ever heard of this combination used for coughs?

  2. This post was great! more people need to learn about what honey can do for them

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