HONEY Overview Information
Honey is a substance produced by bees from the nectar of plants. It is used as a medicine.
Honey can become contaminated with germs from plants, bees, and dust during production, and also during collection and processing. Fortunately, the germ-fighting characteristics of honey ensure that most contaminating organisms cannot survive or reproduce. However, bacteria that reproduce using spores, including the bacterium that causes botulism, may remain. This explains why botulism has been reported in infants given honey by mouth. To solve this problem, medical-grade honey (Medihoney, for example) is irradiated to inactive the bacterial spores. Medical-grade honey is also standardized to have consistent germ-fighting activity. Some experts also suggest that medical-grade honey should be collected from hives that are free from germs and not treated with antibiotics, and that the nectar should be from plants that have not been treated with pesticides.
Honey is used for cough, asthma, and hay fever. It is also used for diarrhea and stomach ulcers caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Honey is also used as a source of carbohydrate during vigorous exercise.
Some people apply honey directly to the skin for wound healing, burns, sunburn, cataracts, and diabetic foot ulcers. Topical use of honey has a long history. In fact, it is considered one of the oldest known wound dressings. Honey was used by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides in 50 A.D. for sunburn and infected wounds. Honey’s healing properties are mentioned in the Bible, Koran, and Torah.
In foods, honey is used as a sweetening agent.
In manufacturing, honey is used as a fragrance and a moisturizer in soaps and cosmetics.
Don’t confuse honey with bee pollen, bee venom, and royal jelly.
How does it work?
Some of the chemicals in honey may kill certain bacteria and fungus. When applied to the skin, honey may serve as a barrier to moisture and keep skin from sticking to dressings. Honey may also provide nutrients and other chemicals that speed wound healing.
Possibly Effective for:
- Cough. Taking a small amount of honey at bedtime appears to reduce the number of coughing spells in children age 2 and older. Honey appears to be at least as effective as the cough suppressantdextromethorphan in typical over-the-counter doses. Some researchers think the sweet taste of honey triggers salivation. This, in turn, promotes secretion of mucus, which wets the airway and calms the cough.
- Wound healing. Applying honey preparations directly to wounds or using dressings containing honey seems to improve healing. Several small clinical trials and case reports describe the use of honey or honey-soaked dressings for various types of wounds, including wounds after surgery, chronic leg ulcers, abscesses, burns, abrasions, cuts, and places where skin was taken for grafting. Honey seems to reduce odors and pus, help clean the wound, reduce infection, reduce pain, and decrease time to healing. In some reports, wounds healed with honey after other treatments failed to work.
- Hay fever. Research so far suggests that taking one tablespoon of honey daily, in addition to standard treatment, does not significantly improve symptoms.
- Athletic performance. Some preliminary clinical evidence suggests that honey might bring blood sugar to normal levels following exercise and improve performance when given during exercise.
- Infections caused by catheters used for kidney dialysis. Early research suggests that manuka honey (Medihoney) applied three times weekly to the exit sites of certain types of implanted hemodialysis catheters is as effective as a standard treatment called mupirocin ointment in reducing the occurrence of catheter-associated infections and blood infections.
- Diabetic foot ulcers. Some reports suggest that applying topical raw honey can speed healing of otherwise non-healing diabetic foot ulcers. This seems to be true even if the wound is infected by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), or Pseudomonas infection. In one report, a previously non-healing wound healed completely after applying supermarket honey under dressings for 6-12 months. This patient’s leg was saved from amputation.
- Sore mouth due to radiation treatment (mucositis). Beginning research suggests that honey made from tea tree (Camellia sinensis) nectar taken by mouth can reduce the seriousness of mouth sores, painful swallowing, and weight loss associated with radiation therapy for head and neck cancers.
- Breaking up thick mucus secretions.
- Digestive tract ulcers.
- Other conditions.
HONEY Side Effects & Safety
Honey seems to be safe for most adults and older children when taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
Do not use raw honey in infants and young children under 12 months of age due to the chance of botulism poisoning. This is not a danger for older children or adults.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Honey seems to be safe when taken in food amounts. The concern about botulism applies to infants and young children and not to adults or pregnant women. But not enough is known about the safety of honey when used for medicinal purposes in women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid medicinal amounts and topical applications.
Pollen allergies: Avoid honey if you are allergic to pollen. Honey, which is made from pollen, may cause allergic reactions.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For cough: 2.5-10 mL (0.5-2 teaspoons) of honey at bedtime.
- For the treatment of burns and wounds: Honey is applied directly or in a dressing. The dressings are usually changed every 24-48 hours, but are sometimes left in place for up to 25 days. The wound should be inspected every 2 days. When used directly, 15 mL to 30 mL of honey has been applied every 12-48 hours, and covered with sterile gauze and bandages or a polyurethane dressing.