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Medicinal Uses of Honey

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

Honey and Diabetes

Even if honey is natural, it is no better than ordinary white or brown sugar for dieters or people with diabetes, says dietitian Toby Smithson, RD, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and founder of the web site, Diabetes Everyday.

A tablespoon of honey, in fact, has more carbohydrates and calories than granulated white or brown sugar.

"One of my favorite quotes is that 'a sugar is a sugar' when it comes to diabetes," Smithson says. "I think it's a widespread myth that honey is better for diabetes. Some patients don't classify honey as a sugar.''

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