ScienceMade Influence Blog
By Selena Liu
Honey. It’s a common ingredient in the kitchen as well as a popular ingredient in beauty remedies. Some even call it a miracle health supplement. A couple of years ago, my grandparents read that eating a spoonful of manuka honey, a form of honey produced specifically in Australia and New Zealand, every day would activate its healing properties. They immediately sent my dad to buy it, and I remember stalking the aisles of Trader Joe’s and thinking to myself, there’s no way this is actually a thing, it has to be a health fad. Well, jokes on me. It turns out manuka, along with other types of honey, have components that make it a natural antibacterial.
Honey has a long history in medicine: its first recorded use in medicine is wound healing. Ancient societies have records of honey being an integral part of various healing poultices, but other societies like the ancient Greeks and Chinese, believed that the consumption of honey would allow for longer lives and better overall health. Even now, amidst the times of modern medicines and drugs, there exists a branch of healing called apitherapy, which offers treatments utilizing different types of honey to target specific concerns. For example, eucalyptus honey fights infections and respiratory diseases. But what is in honey that makes it so beneficial, and how do different types of honey help different concerns?
Initially, the reasoning behind honey’s healing properties were thought to be due to its viscosity (thick consistency), but scientists continued performing tests and found several other reasons. High sugar content with low water content helps to draw liquid out of wounded tissue and decrease swelling, which encourages body fluid to help fight infection and heal the wound faster. This property also dehydrates bacteria cells, resulting in their death. Furthermore, honey is also acidic-- this prevents bacteria from returning to the site of the wound and also prevents other compounds from slowing healing. Most importantly, however, is the evidence of a disinfectant many of us are familiar with: hydrogen peroxide. Glucose oxidase is a special protein that exists naturally in honey, and it produces hydrogen peroxide. On its own, hydrogen peroxide can kill bacteria and other microorganisms very effectively. One study showed that higher peroxide content in honey resulted in greater bacteria-killing effects.
Manuka honey is incredibly effective in healing wounds and improving overall health and immunity. MG is a substance often found in the flowers that this honey is extracted from. Compared to hydrogen peroxide, it is more effective at killing bacteria due to its smaller size, allowing it to travel more effectively into the skin and penetrate cells. Like hydrogen peroxide, MG also kills bacteria, and its smaller size lets it work quicker than hydrogen peroxide. This is why manuka honey is more useful as a “healing honey” and is the most common type doctors use when treating patients.
Despite its natural qualities, there are still risks to using honey for health. It is important to consider that not all honey is created equally: although medical-grade honey has been sterilized to prevent allergic reactions and infection, raw honey-- which is commonly sold in stores-- may contain bacteria that causes infection in wounds. Store-bought honey may also contain bee pollen, a common allergen that may cause serious complications in healing. At the end of the day, it is always important to consult a physician before trying any alternative means of healing.
Even though there are dangers to applying honey as a topical treatment, there are other ways honey can contribute to our overall health. Raw honey, when consumed, is rich in antioxidants which protects the body from aging and chronic diseases-- though the evidence for this is less concrete. More commonly, honey can also be used to relieve coughs and sore throats.
The original use of honey in medicine likely inspired many inventions in the world of modern medicine, but compared to newer methods, it still remains less effective. However, the delicious compound still has a place in the medical field, either as a method of healing certain wounds quicker or as a simple health supplement.
Bee image is in the public domain.
Flower image belongs to ScienceMade.org