Honey Has Variety of Health Benefits
Researchers Say Honey's Antioxidant Content Is a Boon for Health
Dominique Walton, MD
WebMD News Archive
July 19, 2000 -- Winnie-the-Pooh may have been a "bear of very little
brain," but he was ahead of his time when it came to his fondness for
honey. Pooh's favorite dish has components that may help prevent cancer and
promote wound healing, according to a report in a recent issue of Nutrition
But because infants don't have the constitution to fight off a particular
type of food poisoning associated with honey, pediatricians advise against
feeding it to children under age 1.
"Beekeeping probably dates back 5,000 years to the Egyptians, who used
honey for food, medicine, and embalming," says author Ann Coulston, MS, RD,
a nutrition consultant and past president of the American Dietetic Association.
"And today, there are over 200 million pounds produced every year in the
U.S. alone," she adds.
With 64 calories in each tablespoon, honey is more than just sugar and
water. It contains several antioxidants, including vitamin E and related
substances, flavonoids, and phenolics, which are found in many fruits, such as
apples and bananas. It also contains ascorbic acid, or vitamin C.
Studies have shown that the antioxidant content of honey varies by floral
source, with dark buckwheat honey containing the most and lighter honey
containing the least.
Doctors say a diet rich in antioxidants helps prevent cancer.
"Antioxidants protect our genes against damage from free radicals,"
says Mitchell Gaynor, MD, assistant professor at Cornell University and
director of medical oncology and integrative medicine at the Strang Cancer
Prevention Center in New York City. "After reacting with oxygen, free
radicals are unstable molecules that steal atoms from other molecules," he
Besides honey, a balanced diet should include many other antioxidants.
"Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and fiber, all
of which should be part of an anticancer diet," Gaynor tells WebMD.
"You should also consider dietary supplements such as folic acid, calcium,
and selenium," he advises.
Because honey was used to treat burns and ulcers in ancient times, there's
renewed interest in its use as a wound dressing. In fact, recent studies
suggest that honey reduces swelling, prevents bacterial growth, and provides a
moist environment for healing.
But before honey is used in clinical practice, experts say the findings have
to be repeated in larger studies. "It looks as though honey might have some
merit, but before we can use it as a wound dressing, we need to know more,"
says Jo Ann Waldrop, MSN, RN, CWOCN, assistant program manager of the Wound
Ostomy and Continence Nursing Education Center at Emory University in
Until the data are in, the best advice is to stick with the basics. "You
can provide a moist healing environment by just covering minor wounds with a
Band-Aid," Waldrop tells WebMD. "Some brands are now coated with
antibiotic ointment, and others are waterproof," she adds.
But despite its long history and bright future, honey has been associated
with food poisoning. Since infant botulism, a type of food poisoning, was first
recognized in 1976, there have been more than 1,200 cases reported.
Fortunately, new reports declined after the American Academy of Pediatrics
advised against feeding honey to children under the age of 1.
Infant botulism is caused by dormant bacteria that aren't killed with heat
disinfection. Older children and adults aren't affected, but infants don't have
enough "healthy" intestinal bacteria to fight the disease.