Honey and Health
Honey and Health: Nutrient Content
Honey is primarily made up of fructose, glucose, and water. Honey also contains small amounts of several vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. There are also characteristics of honey that make it act as an antioxidant.
An antioxidant is a molecule that slows or stops oxidation, a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive elements that can damage cells and, it is speculated, lead to conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Antioxidant-rich foods may help prevent cellular damage and protect against the development of numerous diseases. This is why a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is recommended by doctors and nutritionists alike.
Liquid honey is about 1 to 1½ times sweeter tasting than sugar, yet it has a lower calorie content. Recent research indicates that honey’s antioxidant capacity can be just as effective as the antioxidants in some fruits and vegetables. Currently, the antioxidant capacity of honey is thought to be the result of several compounds acting together, including phenolics, peptides, organic acids, and enzymes. In the article “Chronic honey consumption increases plasma antioxidant concentration,
” Dr. Gross found that regular consumption of several tablespoons of honey over a 29-day period increased antioxidant levels in healthy adult subjects.
Additionally, an article published in the American Dietetic Association revealed that simply substituting honey for sugar can lead to an increase in antioxidants that is equivalent of eating a handful of antioxidant rich berries or nuts. Choosing honey to specifically sweeten black tea has also been shown to increase the presence of antioxidants in the body. In summary, numerous reports suggest that consuming honey on a regular basis, or at least substituting honey for sugar, can greatly increase the body’s antioxidant level and help protect against free radicals. Making honey a part of your diet is an easy way to strengthen your body’s defense system. The amount and type of antioxidants in honey depends on the flower that is the honey’s source. Generally, darker honey (such as buckwheat honey) is richer in antioxidants than lighter honey.
Honey as a Prebiotic
Our gastrointestinal tract contains many types of “good bacteria” that help to regulate digestion and ensure good health. One type of good bacteria is called bifidobacteria. Research has shown that one way to increase the presence of bifidobacteria is to consume foods containing prebiotics, which help the good bacteria to replicate and grow. Honey contains a variety of substances that can act as a prebiotic and encourage the growth of good bacteria. In one recent study, scientists at Michigan State University found that adding honey to yogurt can increase the efficacy of good bacteria.
Honey and Calcium Absorption
Honey itself is not a source of calcium, but researchers at Purdue University have found that consuming honey helps calcium from other dietary sources to be more easily absorbed in the body. Although more research is needed, the possibility that honey may aid in calcium absorption makes it an appealing addition to dishes featuring sources of calcium like milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Honey and Athletics
With a carbohydrate content of 17 grams per tablespoon, honey is a good source of carbohydrates, which provide quick, natural energy for athletes or anyone on the go who needs a healthy boost. It is well-known among athletes that consuming carbs before, after, and during exercise helps muscles recover from intense activity, prevent premature fatigue, and improve overall performance. In the article Honey can serve as an effective carbohydrate replacement during exercise, researchers found that honey was just as effective as a sugar mixture in increasing endurance for nine male endurance athletes. These results suggest that honey may serve as an inexpensive alternative to sports gels. For the
non-athlete, the quick, nutrient-rich boost that honey provides is a healthy alternative to caffeine or sugary candy bars that anyone can feel good about (see this recipe for a great-tasting and nutritious energy bar recipe featuring honey).
Honey and Healing
For centuries, cultures all around the world have used honey to guard health and cure illness, as well as a sweetener. Through the ages, honey has been a “cure-all” for just about everything, from complaints like sleeplessness and indigestion to serious conditions like wounds. As unusual as this may sound to us, science has recently discovered that these ancient medical doctors may have been onto something: results have shown that many of honey’s properties can indeed be used to cure a wide range of diseases inside and outside the body. These conditions include wounds and burns, as well as internal ailments such as coughs
and sore throat. One type of honey known to be particularly rich in antioxidants is
Manuka honey, produced in New Zealand from the Manuka bush. The Manuka bush is more commonly known as the tea tree plant.
Honey and Healing: Recent Studies
The studies below present a brief overview of the ways in which honey has worked to cure a number of ailments and why this golden liquid has proved promising as a treatment.
Honey as an Antimicrobial
Honey’s “miracle cure” quality is due largely in part to its role as an antimicrobial agent. Antimicrobial means that honey helps to kill harmful bacteria without damaging fragile tissue. Recently, research into the abilities of honey as an antimicrobial agent capable of killing bacteria has increased due to the rise in “superbugs”. Superbugs are illnesses caused by strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. In some cases, without the aid of conventional treatment, these superbugs can be fatal. In the article “The sensitivity to honey of Gram-positive cocci of clinical significance isolated from wounds” Dr.’s Cooper, Molan and Harding described how honey can be useful in treating wounds unable
to heal because they are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study found that when three types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA; vancomycinsensitive enterococci, VSE; and vancomyacin-resistnant enterococci, VRE) were exposed to honey, that honey halted the growth of the harmful bacteria. This suggests that honey may be useful in treating wounds that resist conventional antibiotic treatment.In another study “Local application of honey for treatment of neonatal postoperative wound infection, ” Dr. Vardi and his colleagues found that honey can also be effective in helping wounds to heal even in the most vulnerable of patients: infants. During this study, honey was used to treat open, infected wounds in nine infants who were recovering from surgery. The infants had been treated with antibiotics, but the wounds failed to heal. Dressings soaked in honey were applied to the wounds
and changed twice daily. After five days of treatment, all infants showed improvement. After 21 days, the wounds had closed in all of the infants. There were no adverse reactions to the treatment with honey. These results indicate that, with further research, honey could be an important treatment for individuals of any age who have wounds infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Honey as Treatment for Chronic Conditions
There has also been recent evidence suggesting that honey can be effective in managing certain conditions, similar to the way in which certain prescription drugs are used to manage diabetes, heart disease, and allergies. Although there is still a long way to go in this area of study, with the rising cost of health care, the potential of honey as a way to ensure long-term health for individuals afflicted or at risk for chronic conditions is promising.
In the article “Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidaemic comparison with dextrose and sucrose, ” Dr. Al-Waili compared the increase in blood glucose levels in diabetics. One group of volunteers was fed honey, and the other group was given a sugar mixture. When blood glucose levels were measured, Dr. Al-Waili found that the level of blood sugar in the body was lower in the patients who had consumed honey. In another study, “Natural honey lowers plasma prostaglandin concentrations in normal individuals,”
Dr. Al-Waili found that when twelve healthy individuals consumed natural unprocessed honey with water once a day for 15 days, that the concentration of prostaglandins in their bloodstream was reduced. Although further studies like these are needed, results like this suggest that consuming honey may keep blood
glucose levels low, resulting in a lower risk of heart disease for some patients.
Honey and Oral Health
Honey has been known to prevent the growth of a variety of bacteria, including bacteria in the mouth. In the article “Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activity of Honeys Against Oral Pathogens” several types of honey were tested (including sage, orange, tupelo, and manuka honey) and it was found that all were found effective in halting the growth of several bacteria, including porphoromonas gingivalus (otherwise known as gingivitis.)
In another promising study, “The effects of manuka honey on plaque and gingivitis: a pilot study, ” Dr. English and his colleagues evaluated the efficacy of Manuka honey in fighting dental plaque and gingivitis. For this study, Manuka honey was used to make a chewable form of honey called “honey leather, ” which can be chewed like a stick of gum. Thirty subjects were divided into two groups: 1 group chewed sugarless gum for 10 minutes, 3 times a day following meals, and the other group chewed the honey leather. At the end of the study, those who had
chewed the honey product showed lower levels of plaque and lower occurrence of gingivitis symptoms. Those who had chewed gum showed no improvement in plaque or gingivitis reduction compared to if they had not chewed at all. These results suggest certain kinds of honey may be an effective way to prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease
Honey and Cough Suppression
In the study titled “Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents,” researchers found that when children had two groups of ages 2-18 with a cough were given cough medicine DM and the other group was given a doest of buckwheat honey 30 minutes before bedtime, that the honey was just as effective in reducing the cough as the DM cough syrup. Honey was rated by the parents as most favorable for relieving cough and helping their children to sleep. In the future, some parents may decide to choose honey over DM since DM has been known to have questionable side effects.
Honey in the Medicine Cabinet
Although science is still a long way off from recommending treatment with honey in much the same way prescriptions and over the counter medicines are prescribed, there are many common household honey remedies that you can use with assurance. Here are a few ways you can take advantage of the natural healing benefits of honey in your home.
Before you try any honey remedies or recipes, keep in mind that honey should not be fed to infants younger than one year of age due to the possibility of a serious illness called botulism. Infant botulism is caused by bacterial spores. Although these spores may sound dangerous, they can in fact be found throughout our environment and in soil, dust, air, and in raw fruits and vegetables. These spores are routinely consumed without problems by children and adults. However, because infants lack a fully developed gastrointestinal tract, these spores can cause the disease known as botulism. While incidents of infant botulism caused by honey are rare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Honey Board agree that the honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age. The use of honey and honey products for healing purposes is called apitherapy. Because a sore throat could be the result of a wide variety of ailments, be sure to consult your doctor if you have a fever, or if symptoms continue for more than a few days.
Honey & Sore Throat
For decades, singers have used honey to soothe their throats before an important performance. But anyone can use honey to ease a sore throat. Try a spoonful of honey as often as is needed for sore throat relief. Honey’s slow-moving liquid quality will coat your throat and help relieve irritation. You can also try the Honey Citrus Soother, below, for extra Vitamin C. Honey Citrus Soother serves 4 ingredients
3 tea bags green or black
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups boiling water
¼ cup honey
1 cup grapefruit juice
Place tea bags and cinnamon stick in a 1-quart tea pot. Add boiling water; steep 3 to 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and tea bags; discard. Stir in grapefruit juice and honey