Oct 27, 2014

Honey as Medicine

Since biblical times, honey has been used as medicine. The first written record of it's medicinal use is from 1900-1250 BC. Today, doctors - even conventional ones - are coming back around to using honey as medicine. That makes honey an excellent addition to the home medicine cabinet.


Raw vs. Pasteurized Honey

First, it's important to differentiate between pasteurized honey, which is typically what you purchase in grocery stores, and unpasteurized or raw honey, which mostly is available at farmer's markets or direct from those who raise bees. For medicine, most experts recommend raw, unpasteurized honey. Pasteurization kills most of the medicinal properties of honey.

Honey for Wounds

Honey is well known as an excellent treatment for wounds. In particular, Manuka honey, which comes from bees who feed on New Zealand's Leptospermum scoparium plant, is well studied. A layer of good honey helps protect and seal the wound while it kills bacteria. (Specifically, the honey makes the area too acidic for bacteria, plus it produces hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria...and it probably has other antibacterial properties that scientists are only beginning to discover.)

The FDA has approved MediHoney - sterilized Manuka honey, which many doctors consider safer than raw honey. Many wound centers use MediHoney. Some doctors claim that, unlike untreated Manuka honey, it burns while going on.

Most studies have found that cleaning the wound first, applying a thick layer of honey, then wrapping the wound in gauze works best. However, it's probably a really bad idea to treat anything other than minor wounds yourself - so consider using the honey's natural healing powers for things like cracked skin (including nipples - but please be sure to thoroughly wash off the honey before nursing *), and minor cuts and mouth ulcers.

Honey as an Antibacterial

Scientific studies have proven honey is an effective antibacterial. It's known to fight E. coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the laboratory. However, the antibacterial qualities of honey varies depending upon what kind of pollen the bees were using, and perhaps other unknown factors. Generally speaking, though, the darker the honey is, the better medicinal properties it has. Once again, Manuka honey, which has been well tested over the years, is a reliable source for antibacterial honey.
Honey for Stomachs

Taken internally, honey is scientifically proven to prevent the growth of Helicobacter pylori  - an organism that causes ulcers and much abdominal discomfort. It's also known to ease some stomach pains.


Honey for Allergies

If you or someone you love has seasonal allergies, you may have heard that eating raw local honey can relieve symptoms - and in fact, some studies back this up this claim. Some doctors are skeptical because bees don't collect pollens from ragweed and grass (the two most common seasonal allergies). Others argue that while bees don't intentionally pick up these pollens, they "accidentally" do - and it's already proven that small doses of an allergen builds up resistance to it in your body. Skeptics say honey gets broken down too much in the stomach to benefit allergy sufferers.


Honey for Coughs and Colds

Taking a tablespoon of honey when your throat is sore can feel soothing and help slow down coughs. There is even some evidence that honey helps reduce inflammation in membranes. In one study with "139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep."

Honey to Decrease Harmful Effects of Carcinogens

Honey is an antioxidant, and studies suggest ingesting honey decreases the cancer-causing effects of many carcinogens - and may even have potential as a cancer vaccine.

Honey as an Anti-Inflammatory

Studies also show that honey works as an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain from inflammation when taken internally.

Honey for Burns

Treating burns with honey works better than using OpSite dressings, according to the British Journal of Plastic Surgery.  This treatment also makes the burns less painful and leaves less scarring behind. MediHoney and Manuka honey are considered the best for burn treatment.
Honey as a Moisturizer

Honey works well for adding moisture to dry skin. Just a small amount massaged into a dry area provides instant relief, and over time, may eliminate dryness.


*A Word of Caution

Small children should not consume any type of honey. Infants don't have a well developed immune system, and if the honey has botulism spores in it (and it often does, even with pasteurized honey), adults are typically fine, but infants are likely to suffer serious health issues, and may even die. Jatinder Bhatia, MD, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition, says: "It's been shown very clearly that honey can give infants botulism," a paralytic disorder in which the infant must be given anti-toxins and often be placed on a respirator in an intensive care unit."


Lead photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian and FreeImages.com.


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