Medicinal Information

Medicinal uses and health effects of honey*

For at least 2700 years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, though it was not until modern times that the cause of infection was understood. Now, it is understood that the folk remedy of using honey to treat wounds has a scientific explanation: it acts as an antiseptic/antibacterial agent. As an antimicrobial agent honey has potential for treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, hydrogen peroxide effect, and high acidity.

Osmotic effect
Honey is primarily a saturated mixture of two monosaccharides. This mixture has a low water activity; most of the water molecules are associated with the sugars and few remain available for microorganisms, so it is a poor environment for their growth.

Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide in honey is activated by dilution. However, unlike medical hydrogen peroxide, commonly 3% by volume, it is present in a concentration of only 1 mmol/l in honey. Iron in honey oxidizes the oxygen free radicals released by the hydrogen peroxide.

glucose + H2O + O2 → gluconic acid + H2O2
When used topically (as, for example, a wound dressing), hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic. Unlike 3% medical hydrogen peroxide, this slow release does not cause damage to surrounding tissue.

The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria responsible for infection.

Nutraceutical effects
According to relatively new findings, honey may have some significant nutraceutical effects (or positive long-term health effects resulting from honey’s consumption). In addition to its primary carbohydrate content, honey often contains polyphenols, which can act as antioxidants. As a nutritional element, antioxidants prevent oxidative stress to cells throughout the body. The antioxidants of honey have even been implicated in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitis. Furthermore, honey has been shown to be effective in increasing the populations of probiotic bacteria in the gut, which may help strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, lower cholesterol and prevent colon cancer.

These positive health effects of honey are consistent with its use in many traditions of folk medicine.

Other medical applications
The most common use of honey is as an anti-microbial agent used for dressing wounds, burns and skin ulcers. This application has a long history in traditional medicine. Additionally, the use of honey reduces odors, reduces swelling, and reduces scarring; it also prevents the dressing from sticking to the healing wound.

Some claim that one drop of honey directly on the eye can treat mild forms of conjunctivitis.

Due to its antiseptic properties, honey (especially when combined with lemon) can be taken orally by Pharyngitis and Laryngitis sufferers, in order to soothe them.

Though widely believed to alleviate allergies, local honey has been shown to be no more effective than placebos in controlled studies. This may be due to the fact that most seasonal allergies are caused by tree and grass pollens, which honeybees do not collect.

*From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Honey formation

Honey is laid down by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By contriving for the bee swarm to make its home in a hive, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects. In the hive there are three types of bee: the single queen bee, a seasonally variable number of drone bees to fertilize new queens and some 20,000 to 40,000 worker bees. The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. They go out, collect the sugar-rich flower nectar and return to the hive. As they leave the flower, bees release Nasonov pheromones. These enable other bees to find their way to the site by smell. Honeybees also release Nasonov pheromones at the entrance to the hive, which enables returning bees to return to the proper hive. In the hive the bees use their honey stomachs to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. It is then stored in the honeycomb. Nectar is high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. Bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb. This enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. The reduction in water content, which raises the sugar concentration, prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by the beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment.

The beekeeper encourages overproduction of honey within the hive so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bees. When sources of foods for the bees are short the beekeeper may have to feed the bees other forms of sugar so they can survive.

Composition of honey

Honey is a mixture of sugars and other compounds. With respect to carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38.5 percent) and glucose (about 31.0 percent). The remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose and other complex carbohydrates. In addition, honey contains a wide array of vitamins, such as vitamin B6 , thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc as well as several different amino acids have been identified in honey. (Honey also contains several compounds which function as antioxidants. Known antioxidant compounds in honey are chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase and pinocembrin. Unlike most other sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.

The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the mix of flowers consumed by the bees that produced the honey. Honey has a density of about 1.5 kg/liter (50% denser than water) or 12.5 pounds per US gallon.

Typical honey analysis
Fructose: 38%
Glucose: 31%
Sucrose: 1%
Water: 17%
Other sugars: 9% (maltose, melezitose)
Ash: 0.17%
Source: Sugar Alliance
The analysis of the sugar content of honey is used for detecting adulteration.