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Top 8 health benefits of honey

There are several health benefits of honey due to its various biological properties. These properties include antibacterial properties, anti-oxidative properties, and anti-inflammatory properties. Here we examine what we consider the top eight health benefits of honey.

Honey, produced by Apis mellifera (honey bee), has been commonly used as medicine and nourishment since ancient times.1 It is considered one of the oldest natural remedies, having been used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese to treat wounds and ailments.1, 2

According to several studies, honey has been used as traditional or alternative medicine to treat a number of medical conditions or diseases, which included sore throats, hiccups, thirst, eye diseases, asthma, diabetes, cancer, wounds and ulcers.3

Composition and types of honey

Honey is primarily made up of sugars, with fructose and glucose making up around three-quarters of the sugar.4 It is generally considered a natural sweetener due to its high concentrations of fructose.3 Natural honey consists of proteins, amino acids, vitamins, organic acids, and minerals as well as volatile compounds, flavonoids, and polyphenols. 3, 5

These volatile compounds and phenols may be used to determine the floral or geographical origins of a particular type of honey.4

There are around 300 types of honey found around the world.3 Each type of honey varies in composition, taste, and colour. Honey can be considered natural, pure or organic honey. Honey’s composition, taste and colour depends on the type of flower, geographical area, climate and how it is processed.4, 6 

Top 8 Health benefits of honey

Honey has antibacterial, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties – here are what we consider the top eight health benefits of honey.

Wound healing

Honey may be effective in treating wounds, burns, and ulcers because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.1, 3 Honey helps maintain a moist wound environment as well as stimulate growth of new tissue to promote healing of the wound. It has a high viscosity that enables it to act as protective barrier against infections.1

Honey may help stimulate the production of immune cells in response to infections. This leads to beginning the process of wound repair.1

According to research, the effects of manuka honey is significant in wound healing and preventing growth of bacteria without the presence of hydrogen peroxide. This may be because manuka honey has high sugar concentrations and an acidic environment that is generally not suitable for bacteria to grow and thrive.1

Treating fungal infections

Studies report pure honey can help treat fungal infections including yeast infections, ringworm and Athlete’s foot. This may be due to pure honey’s ability to prevent fungal growth as well as infections caused by bacteria.5

Gastrointestinal disorders

Honey can be used to help treat or manage disorders affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Studies report that honey can treat infections such as gastritis as well as peptic ulcers.1, 5 This may be because honey helps prevent the bacteria from attaching to the intestinal wall by possibly either coating the bacteria with honey or by honey altering characteristics that affects the bacteria’s interaction with the host cells.5

Honey may be able to repair damaged intestinal lining as well as help in growing new tissues.1, 5 It can help lower the duration of diarrhea caused by bacterial infection and be used as part of an oral rehydration therapy. During rehydration, honey can enable the body to take up potassium and water without increasing the uptake of sodium.5

Cardiovascular diseases

Reduces risk of heart or cardiovascular disease

Honey is considered a rich source of antioxidants such as flavonoids, vitamin C and phenols.3 Research studies suggest that honey is linked to decreased risk of heart or cardiovascular diseases because of the presence of these antioxidants.7 According to studies, buckwheat honey can potentially increase the capacity of antioxidants in the blood.8, 9

Antioxidants such as flavonoids can help lower the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. This is done by helping the arteries to dilate, which enables adequate blood flow to the heart. The antioxidants also inhibit platelets from forming blood clots as well as prevent LDL cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol) from oxidizing.3, 7

Lowers blood pressure

Research indicates that honey can potentially reduce high blood pressure, a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. A 2012 study, published in Oxidative Study and Cellular Longevity, reported that honey can potentially lower blood pressure levels in rats by relieving oxidative stress in the kidneys.10 Other studies reported that quercetin, a honey polyphenol, can decrease blood pressure levels in patients with high blood pressure.7

However, more research and clinical trials are needed to assess the effectiveness of honey in reducing blood pressure in humans.

Improve cholesterol levels

High LDL cholesterol levels are considered a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. Research studies suggest that honey may be able to improve cholesterol levels in the body. Some studies suggest that honey’s ability to inhibit coagulation and platelet aggregation in the blood may help prevent the buildup of plaques in the arteries.6

According to a 2008 study, published in The Scientific World Journal, natural honey has been able to decrease total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels and fasting blood glucose levels in overweight and obese patients. The findings also report that honey increased HDL cholesterol (known as good cholesterol) levels in these patients. These results occurred without an increase in body weight.11

Respiratory infections

Honey has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective against infections.3 Honey may be effective against influenza and rubella viruses.12 According to some studies, certain types of honey such as manuka honey and clover honey may be effective against the varicella zoster virus.4

Honey can potentially help children manage coughs from bacterial or viral infections affecting the respiratory system.  In a 2018 study published in the Cochrane Database System Review, honey was reported to be more effective in managing cough symptoms than most standard medications.12 The study also found that honey managed to decrease the duration of the coughs better than the other medications.

Other studies reported that honey not only improved cough symptoms but also sleep quality at night in children with upper respiratory tract infections.13, 14 It is generally not recommended to give honey to children younger than one year old. This is because infants have poor immunity against bacteria, which may be found in honey.12

A common remedy for treating sore throat is by taking honey in warm water or milk. Honey can be used to treat a cold by mixing it with warm milk, lemon juice or radish juice.15

Oral health

Honey may be used in the treatment of several oral diseases including periodontitis (gum disease) and gingivitis. It can help prevent dental plaques, inflammation of the oral mucus membranes and ulcers from forming in the mouth. Honey’s anti-inflammatory properties enable it to repair damaged cells or tissue in the mouth.2

Gingivitis can be managed by gargling honey with water or another liquid.15 A 2018 study, published in Indian Society Periodontology, found that mouthwashes based on manuka honey and raw honey can be effective in reducing dental plaques and gingivitis.16

More research is needed to assess the many health benefits of honey. You should speak with a doctor or healthcare professional regarding treatments for your medical condition and whether you can use honey or not.

                                                                                    

References

  1. Mandal MD, Mandal S. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2011;1(2):154-160. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60016-6
  • Pasupuleti VR, Sammugam L, Ramesh N, Gan SH. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:1259510. doi:10.1155/2017/1259510
  • Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017;9(2):121-127. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.204647
  • Miguel MG, Antunes MD, Faleiro ML. Honey as a Complementary Medicine. Integr Med Insights. 2017;12:1178633717702869. Published 2017 Apr 24. doi:10.1177/1178633717702869
  • Eteraf-Oskouei T, Najafi M. Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2013;16(6):731-742.
  • Cianciosi D, Forbes-Hernández TY, Afrin S, et al. Phenolic Compounds in Honey and Their Associated Health Benefits: A Review. Molecules. 2018;23(9):2322. Published 2018 Sep 11. doi:10.3390/molecules23092322
  • Khalil MI, Sulaiman SA. The potential role of honey and its polyphenols in preventing heart diseases: a review. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2010;7(4):315-321. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v7i4.56693
  • Gheldof N, Wang XH, Engeseth NJ. Buckwheat honey increases serum antioxidant capacity in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Feb 26;51(5):1500-5. doi: 10.1021/jf025897t. PMID: 12590505.
  • Schramm DD, Karim M, Schrader HR, Holt RR, Cardetti M, Keen CL. Honey with high levels of antioxidants can provide protection to healthy human subjects. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Mar 12;51(6):1732-5. doi: 10.1021/jf025928k. PMID: 12617614.
  1. Erejuwa OO, Sulaiman SA, Ab Wahab MS, Sirajudeen KN, Salleh S, Gurtu S. Honey supplementation in spontaneously hypertensive rats elicits antihypertensive effect via amelioration of renal oxidative stress. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:374037. doi:10.1155/2012/374037
  1. Yaghoobi N, Al-Waili N, Ghayour-Mobarhan M, et al. Natural honey and cardiovascular risk factors; effects on blood glucose, cholesterol, triacylglycerole, CRP, and body weight compared with sucrose. ScientificWorldJournal. 2008;8:463-469. Published 2008 Apr 20. doi:10.1100/tsw.2008.64
  1. Oduwole O, Udoh EE, Oyo-Ita A, Meremikwu MM. Honey for acute cough in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;4(4):CD007094. Published 2018 Apr 10. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007094.pub5
  1. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Dec;161(12):1140-6. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.161.12.1140. PMID: 18056558.
  1. Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jul;16(7):787-93. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0311. PMID: 20618098.
  1. Kumar, K.R., Bhowmik, D., Chiranjib, Biswajit, Ch, M., & Irã (2010). Medicinal uses and health benefits of honey: an overview. Journal of chemical and pharmaceutical research, 2, 385-395.
  1. Singhal R, Siddibhavi M, Sankeshwari R, Patil P, Jalihal S, Ankola A. Effectiveness of three mouthwashes – Manuka honey, Raw honey, and Chlorhexidine on plaque and gingival scores of 12-15-year-old school children: A randomized controlled field trial. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2018;22(1):34-39. doi:10.4103/jisp.jisp_356_17
  2. Image by Dagny Walter from Pixabay 
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