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Honey

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What other names is Honey known by?

Apis mellifera, Buckwheat Honey, Chestnut Honey, Clarified Honey, Honig, Jellybush Honey, Langnese Honey, Madhu, Manuka Honey, Medihoney, Mel, Miel, Miel Blanc, Miel Clarifié, Miel de Châtaignier, Miel de Manuka, Miel de Sarrasin, Miel Filtré, Purified Honey, Strained Honey, Tualang Honey.

What is Honey?

Honey is a substance produced by bees from the nectar of plants. It is commonly used as a sweetener in food. It may also be used as a medicine.

Honey can become contaminated with germs from plants, bees, and dust during production, collection, and processing. Fortunately, there are characteristics of honey that prevent these germs from remaining alive or reproducing. However, some bacteria that reproduce using spores, such as the type that causes botulism, can 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, diabetes, high levels of cholesterol, asthma, and hay fever. It is also used for diarrhea, ulcers in the mouth caused by cancer treatment, and stomach ulcers caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Honey is also used as a source of carbohydrate during vigorous exercise or in people who are malnourished. It may also be used orally for wound healing following the removal of tonsils.

Some people apply honey directly to the skin for wound healing, burns, diabetic foot ulcers, gangrene, and treating cataracts or clouding of the cornea in people who were infected by herpes virus. It is also applied to the skin for sunburns, to prevent infections that occur following the use of catheters, and to prevent the spread of cancer cells when a tumor is being removed. Honey is applied inside the mouth and then swallowed to prevent and treat mouth ulcers that occur during cancer treatment and to prevent infections of the gums. It may also be applied to the skin to reduce itching, to treat skin lesions that occur after infection with an organism called Leishmania, for hemorrhoids, and for herpes infections.

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.

Honey is used as a nasal spray for hay fever.

Honey is applied into the vagina to improve fertility.

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.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Burns. Applying honey preparations directly to burns seems to improve healing.
  • Cough. Taking a small amount of honey at bedtime appears to reduce the number of coughing spells in children age 2 years and older. Honey appears to be at least as effective as the cough suppressant dextromethorphan in typical over-the-counter doses. Also, drinking water containing a small amount of a honey/coffee paste seems to reduce the frequency of coughing in adults that have a long-lasting cough after they have been ill.
  • Mouth sores due to radiation or chemical treatment (mucositis). Rinsing the mouth and then slowly swallowing honey before and after radiation therapy sessions seems to reduce the risk of developing mouth sores. Also, applying honey to mouth sores or taking a honey/coffee paste seems to help heal mouth ulcers caused by chemotherapy.
  • Wound healing. Applying honey preparations directly to wounds or using dressings containing honey seems to improve healing. Several small studies 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.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Hay fever. It is not clear if honey can help with symptoms of hay fever. Some early research shows that taking one tablespoon of honey daily, in addition to standard treatment, doesn't improve allergy symptoms. However, other early research shows that taking honey, in addition to standard treatment, might slightly improve certain symptoms such as itching in the nose and sneezing.
  • Athletic performance. Early research suggests that honey might improve blood levels following exercise and improve performance when given during exercise.
  • Infections caused by catheters used for kidney dialysis. Early research suggests that applying manuka honey (Medihoney by Medihoney Pty Ltd) to the exit sites of certain types of implanted hemodialysis catheters prevents infections from developing as effectively as certain antibiotics or antiseptics. However, other research suggests applying Manuka honey (Medihoney Antibacterial Wound Gel by Comvita) at the exit site does not reduce the occurrence of these infections. In fact, it might increase the risk of infection in people with diabetes.
  • Diabetes. Some early research shows that eating large doses of honey each day can decrease cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. But it also seems to increase HbA1c, a measure of average blood sugar levels. Other early research shows that ingesting smaller amounts of honey each day can decrease fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels in people with type 1 diabetes.
  • Diabetic foot ulcers. Unreliable reports and some early research suggests that applying raw honey to the skin can speed healing of otherwise non-healing diabetic foot ulcers. Also, applying dressings containing honey to diabetic foot ulcers seems to reduce healing time and prevent the need for antibiotics. However, other early research suggests that applying honey to the skin does not speed healing of diabetic foot ulcers. But it does seem to reduce pain.
  • Fournier's gangrene. Early research has shown unclear results about the effects of honey dressings, when used with antibiotics, as a treatment for Fournier's gangrene.
  • Gingivitis. Early research suggests that chewing "leather" made from manuka honey slightly reduces plaque and gum bleeding compared to sugarless chewing gum in people with gingivitis.
  • Hemorrhoids. Early research suggests that applying a spoonful of a mixture containing honey, olive oil, and beeswax reduces bleeding and itching caused by hemorrhoids.
  • Cold sores (herpes simplex). Early research suggests that applying a dressing soaked with honey four times daily improves symptoms and healing time of cold sores but not genital herpes..
  • High cholesterol. Some early research shows that taking 75 grams of honey per day for 14 days lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in women with high cholesterol. But other early research shows that taking 70 grams of honey per day for 30 days does not lower cholesterol levels in people with normal or high cholesterol levels.
  • "Stomach flu". Some research shows that adding honey to a solution given to treat dehydration helps decrease vomiting and diarrhea, and can improve recovery in children and infants with stomach flu. However, another study shows that adding honey to a solution used to treat dehydration decreases diarrhea in only infants and children with stomach flu caused by bacteria but not those with stomach flu caused by a virus or other parasite.
  • Infertility. Early research suggests that applying a combination of Egyptian bee honey and royal jelly in the vagina increases pregnancy rates for couples having difficulty getting pregnant due to male infertility.
  • Skin infection caused by parasites (Leishmania lesions). Early research suggests that covering sores with honey-soaked dressings twice daily for 6 weeks in addition to medication injections results in slower healing than medications alone.
  • Poor nutrition. Early research suggests that honey improves weight and other symptoms in infants and children with poor nutrition.
  • Itching (pruritus). Early research shows that applying a honey cream (Medihoney Barrier Cream by Derma Sciences Inc.) on the skin for 21 days can reduce itchy skin more than a zinc oxide ointment in people with skin irritation caused by rubbing.
  • Skin damage due to radiation. Applying honey gauze once daily to severe skin wounds caused by radiation therapy does not improve healing compared to applying paraffin gauze.
  • Sinus infection caused by allergy to fungus. Early research shows that using a nasal spray containing honey in salt water does not reduce symptoms in people with sinus infection caused by allergy to fungus.
  • Asthma.
  • Breaking up thick mucus secretions.
  • Cataracts.
  • Digestive tract ulcers.
  • Sunburn.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of honey for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


Therapeutic Research Faculty copyright

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