Sweet foods are hardly in short supply these days, but there’s still something special about honey. After all, honey is the unique creation of swarms of bees that cover a six-mile radius in nectar collection. Anything that takes so much work to make has to be good! Honey is sweeter than sugar, with 65 calories per tablespoon, compared to white sugar’s 48. And of course, it offers health benefits that are all its own.
What is Good For?
• Age Spots
• Sore Throat
Honey is not a nutritional powerhouse. It does contain trace amounts of B vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, but it’s really no more nutritious than plain sugar. If honey gets attention from doctors, it’s for other reasons. Its thick, syrupy texture makes it a natural for easing sore throat pain, especially when it’s added to hot lemonade or a soothing tea such as chamomile. But honey does much more. It kills bacteria and helps cuts and wounds heal faster. It’s a natural laxative. It appears to reduce ulcer pain. And it’s a fast-acting energy source that can reinvigorate tired muscles faster than you can say “Gatorade.” Scientists have actually found that athletes perform better when they eat a little honey.
A Sweet Antiseptic:
Infection was the greatest health threat in the days before antibiotics. Even small cuts or scrapes could turn deadly, which is why doctors often carried a little honey in their black bags. Honey contains hydrogen peroxide and propolis, a compound in nectar that kills bacteria. Even today, now that triple-antibiotic creams are in every medicine chest, some doctors believe that honey might be a superior wound dressing in some cases. It works so well that a number of manufacturers sell honey-impregnated dressings for hard-to-heal wounds. The high sugar content of honey pulls moisture from wounds and denies bacteria the moisture they need to survive. It also locks out harmful external contaminants. And because honey is inexpensive, it can be an optimal choice in countries without access to modern wound creams.
As far back as the 1970s, surgeons reported that women who had gynecological surgery had shorter hospital stays and showed no signs of infection
when incisions were coated with honey. Studies in India show that burns dressed with honey heal more quickly and with less pain and scarring than burns slathered with silver sulfadiazine, a conventional burn treatment.
Honey even shows promise for eye disorders, including conjunctivitis and chemical burns. In a study of more than 100 patients with eye disorders that
didn’t respond to conventional treatments, doctors tested a honey ointment. It brought improvement in 85 percent of cases. Applying honey to the eyes (don’t do it without a doctor’s supervision) may cause a brief stinging sensation and some redness, but is unlikely to cause other side effects.
Sweet Digestion: Traditional healers used honey to treat a variety of gastrointestinal complaints.
Now there’s good evidence that it works. For example:
• It soothes ulcers: Honey may reduce ulcer symptoms and speed the healing time. Honey appears to reduce inflammation, stimulate blood flow, and enhance the growth of epithelial cells, the ones exposed along the interior of the stomach or intestine. Studies have also shown that honey kills H. pylori, the bacterium responsible for most ulcers. Raw honey is probably the best choice. The high-heat processing used to create pasteurized honey may neutralize some of the active compounds. A form of honey called Active Manuka Honey, produced in New Zealand from the manuka tree and available in health-food stores, appears to be more effective than other types.
• It promotes regularity: Honey’s high concentration of fructose makes it just the thing for occasional constipation. Undigested fructose provides nourishment for normal intestinal bacteria. The resulting fermentation brings water into the large intestine and has a laxative effect.