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Medicinal Uses of Honey

What researchers are learning about honey's possible health benefits.

Honey and Wound Care

Manuka honey is sometimes used to treat chronic leg ulcers and pressure sores.

Manuka honey is made in New Zealand from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium. It's the basis of Medihoney, which the FDA approved in 2007 for use in treating wounds and skin ulcers. It works very well to stimulate healing, says wound care specialist Frank Bongiorno, MD, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Medihoney has been our standard for healing wounds in the past year, since it started coming on the market," Bongiorno says. A healing wound, whether chronic or acute, is a clean, granulating wound that is absent of bacteria and swelling. Bongiorno doesn't use Medihoney for burns because it can cause pain.

Bongiorno has visited Haiti, where people use ordinary honey for wounds, and although it isn't harmful, it doesn't have the impact of Medihoney, which is purified with ultraviolet light rather than heat. Its antibacterial action is better preserved, he says.

That, of course, is useful in treating wounds, but it is Manuka honey's pH content, which leans toward acidic, that helps the healing process, says Bongiorno, who has no ties to Medihoney's maker. "It is soothing and feels good to the wound.''

Honey and Allergies

Some laboratory studies suggest honey has the potential to clear up stuffy noses and ease allergies triggered by pollen. But it's a bit of a stretch to apply that to patients, says New Jersey allergist Corinna Bowser, MD.

Bowser says she doesn't consider the studies on honey and congestion to be adequate, for a few reasons: most allergy sufferers are sensitive to wind-carried pollens like grass and ragweed -- the kind not carried by bees and transformed into honey.

"If you want to treat someone for common allergies, it's not commonly found in bee honey," Bowser says.

"Even if there are allergens in the honey, it wouldn't make a difference, because it gets broken down by stomach acids and doesn't trigger an immunological response," Bowser says. In contrast, "The pills we take for allergies are coated so they don't get broken down," she says.

Honey and the Common Cold

Maryland family doctor Ariane Cometa, MD, who describes herself as a holistic practitioner, likes to use a buckwheat honey-based syrup to ease early symptoms of a cold. She says it calms inflamed membranes and eases a cough -- the latter claim supported by a few studies.

In a study that involved 139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep.

Another study involving 105 children found that buckwheat honey trumped dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs.

"If you're suffering from a cold or something going on in the throat or upper airways, getting on board with honey syrup will help fight infection and soothe membranes," says Cometa, who also recommends a buckwheat honey-based allergy medicine.

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