The properties of Honey

Properties of honey

Honey is made up of glucose, fructose, and minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphate, sodium chlorine, potassium, magnesium.

Below is a typical honey profile, according to BeeSource.

  • Fructose: 38.2%
  • Glucose: 31.3%
  • Maltose: 7.1%
  • Sucrose: 1.3%
  • Water: 17.2%
  • Higher sugars: 1.5%
  • Ash: 0.2%
  • Other/undetermined: 3.2%

The slightly acidic pH level of honey (between 3.2 and 4.5) is what helps prevent the growth of bacteria, while its antioxidant constituents cleans up free radicals. The physical properties of honey vary depending on the specific flora that was used to produce it, as well as its water content.

Health benefits of honey

Modern science is finding that many of the historical claims that honey can be used in medicine may indeed be true. In the Bible (Old Testament), King Solomon said “My son, eat thou honey, for it is good”, and there are a number of reasons why it may be good.

Acid reflux

Professor Mahantayya V Math, from MGM Medical College, Kamothe, Navi Mumbai, India, explained in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) that, as it is 125.9 more viscous than distilled water at 37 celsius (body temperature),honey may be helpful in preventing GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux).3

Infantile gastroenteritis

E. Haffejee and A. Moosa reported in the BMJ on a clinical study in which they used honey in oral rehydration solution in children and infants with gastroenteritis. Their aim was twofold:

  • Determine whether honey might affect the duration of acute diarrhea
  • Evaluate honey as a glucose substitute in oral rehydration

They found that honey shortens the duration of bacterial diarrhea in infants and young children.4 They added that honey does not prolong non-bacterial diarrhea duration, and “may safely be used as a substitute for glucose in oral rehydration solution containing electrolytes.”

Healing wounds and burns

There have been some cases in which people have reported positive effects of honey in treating wounds. Hurlburt, a borderline diabetic, with recurring cellulitis and staph infections tried taking antibiotics for months, however, they failed to alleviate the symptoms. Hulburt’s physician, Jennifer Eddy of UW Health’s Eau Claire Family Medicine Clinic, suggested that she should try topically applying honey. Soon after applying the honey she began to feel better.

Hulburt said that she remembers thinking “holy mackerel-what a difference. It’s a lot better than having to put oral antibiotics into your system.”

A review published in The Cochrane Library indicated that honey may be able to help heal burns, the lead author of the study said that “topical honey is cheaper than other interventions, notably oral antibiotics, which are often used and may have other deleterious side effects.”

However, it should be stressed that there is a lack of evidence to fully support this claim. In fact, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that applying medical grade honey to wounds of patients has no advantage over normal antibiotic among patients undergoing dialysis.

Honey for treating allergies

There is some research to suggest that honey may be useful in minimizing seasonal allergies. The Guardianreported that honey even ‘beats cough medicine’ at alleviating and reducing the frequency of cough.

One placebo-controlled study which included 36 people with ocular allergies, found that participants responded better to treatment with honey compared to placebo. However, a third of them reported that eating a tablespoon of honey every day was hard to tolerate due to its overly sweet taste.

Fighting infections

In 2010, scientists from the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam reported in FASEB Journal that honey’s ability to kill bacteria lies in a protein called defensin-1. 5

A study published in the journal Microbiology revealed that Manuka honey is effective at treating chronic wound infections and may even prevent them from developing in the first place.

Dr. Rowena Jenkins and colleagues, from the University of Wales Institute, reported that Manuka honey kills bacteria by destroying key bacterial proteins.

Some studies have revealed that a certain type of honey, called “Manuka honey”, may even be effective for the treatment of MRSA infections.

Dr Jenkins concluded:

“Manuka and other honeys have been known to have wound healing and anti-bacterial properties for some time. But the way in which they act is still not known. If we can discover exactly how manuka honey inhibits MRSA it could be used more frequently as a first-line treatment for infections with bacteria that are resistant to many currently available antibiotics”.

Manuka honey may even help reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics, according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Harrogate, UK.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics, which compared honey to placebo in helping children with cough during night time, found that honey was superior. The researchers concluded “Parents rated the honey products higher than the silan date extract for symptomatic relief of their children’s nocturnal coughand sleep difficulty due to URI (upper respiratory infection). Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood URI.”6

Natural honey better at killing bacteria than artificial honey – Kendall Powell wrote in the journal Nature that “natural honey kills bacteria three times more effectively” than an artificial honey solution of the same thickness and sugar concentration.7

Honey’s other possible uses in medicine

New research is always finding new possible uses of honey in treating certain conditions and diseases.

One study found that Manuka honey may prevent radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist

Reviewed by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist

 

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