Health Benefits of Honey

March 12, 2014

Honey has a venerable history when it comes to the role it has played not only in enriching the human diet, but also as a valued medicinal compound. In ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and Islamic texts, there are references to the diverse healing properties of honey. It was used for everything from treating imbalances in the body to healing cuts and burns to helping extend one’s life to embalming bodies.

Today, many people use honey to treat a variety of afflictions and ailments, but one of its most powerful applications in modern medicine is for wound care because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Another area where there is also clinical evidence of honey’s effectiveness is in cough suppression.

Honey can be used as topical antimicrobial agent and it has the ability to promote wound healing. Beginning in 1999, wound care products containing medical-grade honey became available and are now commonly used around the world. Laboratory experiments have shown that honey can impede the growth of food-borne pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157 and Salmonella. Additional research has demonstrated that honey can also kill certain bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which are prevalent strains found in hospitals and clinics. Furthermore, applying honey to burns has been shown to be more effective than using silver sulfadiazene. Treating a burn with honey actually makes the injury sterile in less time, heal more quickly, and have reduced scaring than using conventional treatments. Scientists postulate that the drying effect of the honey’s simple sugars along with its antimicrobrial and anti-infammatory nature make it ideal for healing certain types of burns.

There is also clinical evidence that honey helps control coughs. In one study, children two years of age and older with upper respiratory tract infections were given two teaspoons of honey before they went to bed. The researchers found that the honey appeared to reduce the frequency and severity of nighttime coughing, enabling the children to get a better night’s rest. Impressively, honey seemed to be as effective as the common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan. And since over-the-counter cough medicines are not recommended for children less than six years of age, using honey to treat the common cold in little ones may be an alternative solution. Doctors believe that honey, because of its high viscosity, coats and relieves the rawness at the back of the throat, while its sweetness causes salivation that thins mucus and suppresses the urge to cough. Moreover, the antioxidants present in honey—especially darker honey—may help to strengthen the body’s resistance against infections and mitigate cold symptoms.

Cautionary note: Pediatricians strongly advise against giving honey to children who are under one years of age and the United States Department of Health states that babies should not eat honey. The National Honey Board, which is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture, explains that this concern is due to the fact that infants lack the fully developed gastrointestinal tract of older children and adults.