Benefits of Honey: May Help Common Cold and Heal Wounds
Honey has an ancient history. I mean really ancient. Thousands of years ago Egyptians used honey to help heal wounds. If the person did not get better they used honey as an offering to the Gods. Alas, if the person did not survive they also used it as part of the embalming process.
Ancient Egyptian Papyri documents often referred to bees, their honey, and especially the great medicinal value of honey. Many of ancient Egyptian medicines contained significant quantities of honey, as well as milk and wine. Some of the oldest hieroglyphic carvings show proof that bees and honey had a vital role in the daily life of the population of Egypt. In fact on the colossal sarcophagus of “Ramses II” (20th Dynasty) there are numerous depictions of honey bees.
Antibacterial properties of honey then and now
Honey was used to treat infection as long as 2000 years before the cause of infection was even known. In c.50 AD, Dioscorides described honey as being "good for all rotten and hollow ulcers". Jump forward to modern times and honey has been reported to have an effect on more than 60 species of bacteria (both gram negative and gram positive) and fungi. These include the drug resistant species vancomycin-enterococci (VRE), methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas and food pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. An antifungal effect has also been observed for species of Aspergillus and Penicillium. With the increase prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infections, research has re-evaluated the therapeutic use of ancient remedies such as honey.
How honey may help heal wounds
Dr Peter Molan, MBE, Associate Professor in Biochemistry at The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, has researched the healing properties of honey since 1981. He surmises that honey heals wounds primarily due to a hydrogen peroxide type property present in most honeys. As he explains it the bees gather the nectar and bring it to the hive. Once there, in order to preserve it they add an enzyme, glucose oxidase, to the nectar while processing it into honey. When the honey is placed on a wound the glucose oxidase releases a mild form of hydrogen peroxide. It is strong enough to be effective in killing bacteria and fungi but not strong enough to damage the surrounding tissue.
Honey has been used to treat a wide range of wound types. These wounds include burns, abscesses, venous leg stasis ulcers, unhealed graft donor sites, diabetic foot ulcers, pressure sores, boils, postoperative wound infection and the dreaded necrotizing fasciitis. In some cases honey was used to heal wounds not responding to treatment with conventional treatment.
One study, for example, reported treatment with honey dressings of 59 patients with non-healing wounds and ulcers. 47 of the patients had been treated for up to two years with no measurable signs of healing. Swabs from the 51 wounds with bacteria present became sterile within one week and the others remained sterile. All but one wound showed signs of healing.
Another study used honey on nine infants with large infected surgical wounds that failed to heal with conventional treatment with IV antibiotics and dressing changes. Clinical improvement was seen in all cases in less than a week of treatment with honey, and all wounds were closed and free of infection after three weeks of honey application.
In another yet another randomized control trial, 26 patients with post op infections had their wounds treated with honey while 24 had their wounds washed with alcohol and iodine applied. The group treated with honey had their infection eliminated and achieved optimum healing in less than half the time compared with the traditional antiseptic treated group.
Honey and the Common Cold
Drinking hot tea with honey is a well established way to soothe a sore throat. Now it is thought that honey may be an effective cough suppressant, too.
In one study, children age 2 and older with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime. The honey appeared to reduce nighttime coughing and therefore improved sleep. In fact, in the study, honey appeared to be just as effective as dextromethorphan, the common cough suppressant. This is good news as that ingredient is not to be used on children under the age of 4. Since honey is low-cost, has no side effects and widely available, it might be worth a try.
However, due to the risk of infant botulism, never give honey to a child younger than age one. The National Honey Board, which the USDA oversees, stresses that infants should not be given honey. "The concern for babies stems from the fact that infants lack the fully developed gastrointestinal tract of older humans," the Board's web site states.
Take away message: Today, many people are swarming to honey for its healing properties. Many holistic practitioners consider it one of nature's best all-around remedies. However, before modifying any treatment plan, speak to your health care provider first.
- Is Honey a Safe Treatment for Toddlers with Cough?
- Honey Protein could Fight Superbugs and other Infection
Reference: Honey Health
Molan PC. The antibacterial activity of honey. The nature of the antibacterial activity. Bee World 1992; 5-28.
Efem SE. Clinical observations on the wound healing properties of honey. Br J Surg 1988: 679-81.
Vardi A, Barzilay Z, Linder N, Cohen HA, Paret G, Barzilai A. Local application of honey for treatment of neonatal postoperative wound infection. Acta Paediatr 1998: 429-32.
Al-Waili NS, Saloom KY. Effects of topical honey on post-operative wound infections due to gram positive and gram negative bacteria following caesarean sections and hysterectomies. Eur J Med Res 1999:126-30.