Honey benefit for health
November 22 2015 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


Honey is a sweet fluid produced by honeybees and other insects from the nectar of flowers. "The definition of honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance. This includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners," according to the United States National Honey Board 2003 and other nations' food regulations. This article refers exclusively to the honey produced by honeybees (the genus Apis); honey produced by other bees or other insects has very different properties. An alternative to honey is agave nectar. Honey may be used in small amounts by those with diabetes but high amounts can raise blood sugar levels to an unacceptable degree.


Types of Honey

The color and flavor of honey differ depending on the nectar source (the blossoms) visited by the honey bees. In fact, there are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source. Honey color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown, and its flavor varies from delectably mild to distinctively bold, depending on where the honey bees buzzed. As a general rule, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger.


What's in Honey?
Honey has a number of nutrients which include:
1. Sugars like fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, lactose and other disaccharides and trisaccharides.
2. Proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids.
3. Volatile aromatic substances.
4. Bioflavonoids, depending on the type of honey and which flowers the bees visited.


Honey as a remedy

Honey has been used as a remedy for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians wrote about its curative properties when applied to wounds; similar references have been found in texts from ancient Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, Chinese and Indians. Dozens of clinical trials and more than 150 medical journal articles have been published, involving thousands of patients using honey as a wound dressing. Findings have shown that honey is effective in quickly clearing existing infection, protects wounds from further infection, minimizes scarring and also reduces wound odors. Various studies show medical honey to be effective in treating a huge range of injuries, including surgical wounds, burns, infectious wounds, ulcers and pressure sores as well as eczema, dry eye, dental wounds and even nappy rash.


Honey and blood sugar

The effect of honey on blood sugar levels is the same no matter what its source. Tupelo, clover, buckwheat and cotton honeys have virtually identical glycemic indexes. The glycemic index of a food is a measure of how quickly it causes blood sugar to rise. High carbohydrate, low fiber foods such as white bread or bananas have a high glycemic index, while high fiber foods containing complex carbs, including most vegetables, have a low glycemic index. There is no evidence that the fructose to glucose ratio contained in honey affects its glycemic index, nor does its floral source. Nevertheless, the researchers note, honey may offer advantages over other sweeteners such as refined sugars. Dark honey can be rich in antioxidants, while some honey varieties contain beneficial bacteria. "Because honey has potential health benefits and induces a similar glycemic response, substituting honey in place of sugar may be warranted."

Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial.
Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2008. Bahrami M, Ataie-Jafari A, Hosseini S, Forouzanfar MH, Rahmani M, Pajouhi M. Endocrinology and Metabolism Research Center, Medical Sciences/University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.
We investigated the effect of natural honey on body weight and some blood biochemical indices of diabetic subjects. Forty-eight diabetic type 2 patients were randomly assigned into two groups: the honey group received oral natural honey for 8 weeks, and the control group did not take honey. Before the onset of the study (week 0) and after 8 weeks, weight measurements were taken and fasting blood samples were drawn. After adjustment for the baseline values, there were no significant differences in the fasting blood sugars between the two groups. Body weight, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and triglyceride decreased, and high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol increased significantly in honey group. The levels of hemoglobin A(1C) increased significantly in this group. The results of this study demonstrate that 8-week consumption of honey can provide beneficial effects on body weight and blood lipids of diabetic patients. However, since an increase in the hemoglobin A(1C) levels was observed, cautious consumption of this food by diabetic patients is recommended.


Q. Which sweetener raises blood sugar more, honey or agave?
   A. I have not seen a lot of research comparing the two, but I suspect they are similar. There are so many types of honey and so many different ways to make agave sweetener that it is a tough comparison.


Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013. Honey as a Potential Natural Anticancer Agent: A Review of Its Mechanisms. The mechanism of the anti-cancer activity as chemopreventive and therapeutic agent has not been completely understood. The possible mechanisms are due to its apoptotic, antiproliferative, antitumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF), antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, estrogenic and immunomodulatory activities.

Honey for cough
Honey is used around the world as a folk remedy for cough, and might provide a safe, effective alternative to cough medicine. A spoonful of honey can ease children's nighttime cough and help them sleep better. Dr. Ian M. Paul of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey compared buckwheat honey, a honey-flavored dextromethorphan preparation, and no treatment in 105 children who had sought treatment for nighttime coughs due to colds. Among the three groups, children given honey had the greatest reduction in cough frequency and severity, and the most improved sleep. Honey has a sweet, syrupy quality that is soothing to the throat. Honey also has antimicrobial effects. The high fructose content may also help with sleep induction. The dosage was half a teaspoon for two- to five-year-olds, a teaspoon for six- to eleven-year-olds, and two teaspoons for children twelve and older. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2007.


Diabetic foot ulcers
A comparative study between honey and povidone iodine as dressing solution for Wagner type II diabetic foot ulcers.
Med J Malaysia. 2008 Mar; Shukrimi A, Sulaiman AR, Halim AY, Azril A. Department of Orthopaedics, Kulliyyah of Medicine, International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuantan, Pahang.
Honey dressing has been used to promote wound healing for years but scanty scientific studies did not provide enough evidences to justify it benefits in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. We conducted a prospective study to compare the effect of honey dressing for Wagner's grade-II diabetic foot ulcers with controlled dressing group (povidone iodine followed by normal saline). Surgical debridement and appropriate antibiotics were prescribed in all patients. There were 30 patients age between 31 to 65-years-old (mean of 52 years). The mean healing time in the standard dressing group was 15 days (range 9-36 days) compared to 14 days (range 7-26 days) in the honey group. In conclusion, ulcer healing was not significantly different in both study groups. Honey dressing is a safe alternative dressing for Wagner grade-II diabetic foot ulcers.

Honey for wound healing - results are not consistent

Studies show honey is not consistently effective in treating wounds or leg ulcers. Perhaps different types of honey have different effects.

Dr Shona Blair, a post-doctoral microbiology researcher at the University of Sydney, has been researching the properties of honey for more than six years. She says there have been a large number of worldwide clinical trials showing that honey applied to various wounds has impressive healing properties. Blair found that some types of honey are highly effective in killing many bacteria, including golden staph, (Staphylococcus aureus) - a major problem in hospitals because it is resistant to most antibiotics. Honey also leaves infected wounds very clean, because of its ability to break down the "biofilm" found in many wounds. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, reducing pain, particularly in burns and ulcers. It also can reduce scarring. Treating wounds effectively with honey is not as simple, however, as squirting a bit of honey bought from the supermarket on a Bandaid. Not all honeys are the same. Some Australian and New Zealand honeys have outstanding levels of anti-bacterial properties. One of the top experts in honey research for wound care is Professor Peter Molan, who heads the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato. Molan, a biochemist, has been researching the properties of honey for about 23 years. The anti-bacterial properties are particularly high in manuka honey, from New Zealand. Similarly high levels have since been discovered in honey produced from other plants of the Leptospermum species - and the majority of these is in Australia. Part of Molan's research was funded by the New Zealand health solutions company, Comvita, which is now producing honey-impregnated sterile wound dressings.


Dr. Andrew Jull of the University of Auckland reports honey dressings used as a treatment for difficult-to-treat leg ulcers cause more pain and adverse events than standard wound coverings. Venous leg ulcers are sores in the lower leg that persist for several weeks and are typically treated with compression bandages. Dr. Andrew Jull randomized 386 men and women with venous leg ulcers to receive standard wound dressings or dressings impregnated with honey. After 12 weeks, 55 percent of the honey-treated wounds had healed, compared to 49 percent of the wounds in the control group, which wasn't a statistically significant difference. Wounds healed in an average of 63 days for the honey group compared to 65 days for the control group, again, not a significant difference. However, patients in the honey group were 30 percent more likely to have adverse events, and they were also more likely to report pain. British Journal of Surgery, 2008.


Medical grade honey kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria grown in the test tube and may be used to prevent or treat infections of skin, burns, catheters and other skin-penetrating medical devices. Researchers evaluated the antibacterial activity of a medical grade honey called Revamil (Bfactory), which is produced in greenhouses under standardized conditions. Antibiotic-susceptible and antibiotic-resistant isolates of several common bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli, were killed within 24 hours after incubation with the honey. After applying honey for 48 hours to "bacteria-laden" patches of forearm skin, the extent of skin colonization was reduced 100-fold. The vast majority of the honey-treated skin patches yielded negative skin culture results compared to a fifth of control patches. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2008.


Standardized antibacterial honey (Medihoney) with standard therapy in wound care: randomized clinical trial.
J Adv Nurs. 2009; Robson V, Dodd S, Thomas S. Leg Ulcer Care, Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, UK.
There is an increasing body of evidence to support the use of honey to treat wounds, but there is a lack of robust randomized trials on which clinicians can base their clinical judgement. A sample of 105 patients were involved in a single centre, open-label randomized controlled trial in which patients received either a conventional wound dressing or honey. The median time to healing in the honey group was 100 days compared with 140 days in the control group. Wound area at start of treatment and sex are both highly statistically significant predictors of time to healing. These results support the proposition that there are clinical benefits from using honey in wound care, but further research is needed.


Venous ulcers
Manuka honey vs. hydrogel--a prospective, open label, multicentre, randomised controlled trial to compare desloughing efficacy and healing outcomes in venous ulcers.
J Clin Nurs. 2009; Gethin G, Cowman S. Dip Anatomy, Dip Applied Physiology, Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.
Comparison of desloughing efficacy after four weeks and healing outcomes after 12 weeks in sloughy venous leg ulcers treated with Manuka honey (Woundcare 18+) vs. standard hydrogel therapy (IntraSite Gel). Expert opinion suggests that Manuka honey is effective as a desloughing agent but clinical evidence in the form of a randomised controlled trial is not available. One hundred and eight patients with venous leg ulcers having >or=50% wound area covered in slough, not taking antibiotics or immunosuppressant therapy were recruited from vascular centres, acute and community care hospitals and leg ulcer clinics. The efficacy of WoundCare 18+ to deslough the wounds after four weeks and its impact on healing after 12 weeks when compared with IntraSite Gel control was determined. Treatment was applied weekly for four weeks and follow-up was made at week 12. At week 4, mean % reduction in slough was 67% WoundCare 18+ vs. 52.9% IntraSite Gel.  The WoundCare 18+ group had increased incidence of healing, effective desloughing and a lower incidence of infection than the control. Manuka honey has therapeutic value and further research is required to examine its use in other wound aetiologies. This study confirms that Manuka honey may be considered by clinicians for use in sloughy venous ulcers. Additionally, effective desloughing significantly improves healing outcomes.


Manuka honey

Bees gather pollen from the flowers of the Manuka Bush, which is indigenous to New Zealand. The honey making process is enriched by the pollution free environment of New Zealand.


Manuka honey and regular honey questions
Curious if you've "researched the research" and/or have had any experience using topical or ingested Manuka Honey (UMF grade). I recently read in the June 9, 2007 issue of Science News that it is effective against MRSA (before the staph enters enters bloodstream). Online research about the honey reveals additional health claims similar to longstanding ones made for other honeys.
    There have been some in medical journals regarding the potential benefit of Manuka honey used topically for skin infections by MRSA, but we don't have any personal experience ourselves.


Manuka honey dressing: An effective treatment for chronic wound infections. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2006;
Visavadia BG, Honeysett J, Danford MH. Maxillofacial Unit, Royal Surrey County Hospital, Egerton Road, Guildford Surrey, UK.
The battle against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) wound infection is becoming more difficult as drug resistance is widespread and the incidence of MRSA in the community increases. Manuka honey dressing has long been available as a non-antibiotic treatment in the management of chronic wound infections. We have been using honey-impregnated dressings successfully in our wound care clinic and on the maxillofacial ward for over a year.


Topical manuka honey for MRSA-contaminated skin ulcers. Palliat Med. 2006.Chambers J.


Healing of an MRSA-colonized, hydroxyurea-induced leg ulcer with honey. J Dermatolog Treat. 2001.
Natarajan S, Williamson D, Grey J, Harding KG, Cooper RA. Wound Healing Research Unit, University of Wales College of Medicine, Heath Park, Cardiff, UK.
We report the case of an immunosuppressed patient who developed a hydroxyurea-induced leg ulcer with subclinical MRSA infection which was subsequently treated with topical application of manuka honey, without cessation of hydroxyurea or cyclosporin. MRSA was eradicated from the ulcer and rapid healing was successfully achieved. Honey is recognized to have antibacterial properties, and can also promote effective wound healing. A traditional therapy, therefore, appears to have enormous potential in solving new problems.


Q. Why would a teaspoon of honey in an uncaffeinated beverage make my heart race? I have been very healthy until recently, when within several months several things began happening at once -- rosacea and dry mouth / very dry eyes. I do not test positive for sjorgren's but show its symptoms. Now, if I have a cup of tea or any beverage with a teaspoon of honey, even if it's only once a week, my heart races. This has never happened before. I would be so very grateful for any insight you could give me.

   A. It is not easy to know without knowing your full history but it would be interesting to know whether the honey causes this without drinking tea, in plain water. Also, it is possible the honey could increase blood sugar level causing a fast release of insulin.


What kind of treatments has honey been proven to be effective? Why isn't honey more widely used in clinics and hospitals? Is there a stigma against the use of honey or other natural products? What type of honey is most effective? Do more studies need to be done on the efficacy of honey as a medicinal treatment?
Do you know anything about honey produced in this region (UAE / Arabia)? How often is honey used for medicinal purposes (if known)? Would you approve of using honey instead of mainstream products? If so, which ones?
    Most US doctors are not aware of the benefits of treatment with honey and are not willing to risk the use of this natural substance for legal reasons in case a lawsuit is filed by a patient claiming that the doctor did not use approved antibiotic medications. Honey is not available in hospitals and a doctor does not have the option to request the use. Different types of honey seem to be effective, Manuka honey has been studied a great deal. Honey is rarely used by American doctors. The role of honey appears to be for the use of diabetic foot ulcers and wound healing.


Blurb for a book
Honey is a natural remedy used for thousands of years. What impresses me is that it is a rich source of bioflavonoids and various antioxidants, placing it in the superfood category when used moderately as part of an overall healthy and varied diet.
   Ray Sahelian, M.D. is one of the world's top nutrition experts, the best selling author of books on herbs and dietary supplements, and writes a popular newsletter called Supplement Research Update.