With its sweet taste, golden color, and versatility, honey has been an emblem of human health and well-being throughout history.1 It has been harvested for thousands of years and is still praised for its nutritional, cosmetic, therapeutic, and industrial value.2 Honey proponents have touted honey’s medicinal properties, including its use as an antifungal and antibacterial agent, its
Beneficial effects on cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health, and more.2-6 The range of honey’s health properties may seem too good to be true. Just how many of them are backed by science?
Properties and Nutrient Content
There are about 320 different varieties of honey, which vary in color, odor, and flavor.1 These properties are largely dependent upon the type of pollinated plant. It comes in two main types: raw and pasteurized. Raw honey comes straight from the hive. It is the least processed and, thus, maintains most of its original nutritional value.5 Pasteurized honey also comes from a beehive but is processed to improve the opacity and texture’s consistency, remove impurities, and improve its shelf life.3,5
Honey contains a number nutrients. It mainly comprises sugars, such as fructose and sucrose, and water, but it also contains several vitamins and minerals.4 Other constituents include amino acids, inhibine (an antibacterial agent), proteins, and phenol antioxidants. One tablespoon of honey contains about 64 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of sugar, but almost no fiber, fat, or protein.7
Benefits and Medical Uses
Antimicrobial Activity. Honey’s antimicrobial mechanisms are different from those of antibiotic medications, which destroy the bacteria’s cell wall or inhibit intracellular metabolic pathways.8,9 Honey’s antibacterial activity is linked to four chemical properties.8 First, honey dehydrates bacteria by drawing moisture out of the environment. Second, honey’s low acidity inhibits the growth of most microorganisms. Third, hydrogen peroxide, which is produced by the glucose oxidase found in honey, is a natural disinfectant with antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Finally, several phytochemical factors affecting antimicrobial activity have been identified in honey.10
Wound Healing. Research has demonstrated honey’s efficacy in wound healing, which is due to a combination of bioactive effects and osmotic outflow (the flow of water or other solvent molecules across cell membranes).8 After honey is applied to the damaged skin, the osmotic outflow from the honey lifts and remove dirt and debris from the wound. Honey also helps the body stimulate inflammatory cytokines in the wound, which cause the tissue to swell.9 This helps control bleeding, prevent infection, and allow the cells that repair damage move to the wound site to do their work.10,11 The natural antimicrobial properties of honey can prevent the wound from getting infected, and the additional amino acids, vitamins, and trace minerals found in honey can expedite tissue regeneration.12
Antioxidants. Honey contains numerous antioxidants, including flavonoids, polyphenolics, Vitamin C, and monophenolics.13,14 Antioxidants intercept free radicals in our bodies before they can cause serious cellular damage.2 Reducing free radicals decreases oxidative stress in the body, counteracting inflammation.15 The anti-inflammatory effects of honey’s antioxidants can decrease the risk of numerous chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases. Luckily, the botanical origin of honey has the greatest influence on its antioxidant properties, and its processing affects these properties only to a minor degree.8
Oral Health. Due to its antimicrobial properties and soothing texture, honey has been shown to successfully treat mouth ulcers and gum pain.16 A 2004 study examined the effect of manuka honey on plaque and gingival bleeding, and an analysis of the results indicated that there were significant reductions both areas when treated with the honey.16
Research supports several claims of health benefits associated with honey, including its antimicrobial properties, positive effects on wound healing, and antioxidant activity, to name a few. However, it is high in sugar and calorie content, which can lead to weight gain.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Honey. 14 Nov 2020. Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-honey/art-20363819. Accessed 13 Jan 2021.
- Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and health: a review of recent clinical research. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017;9(2):121–127.
- Olsen N. Everything you need to know about honey. 14 Feb 2018. Medical News Today website. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264667. Accessed 13 Jan 2021.
- Ajibola A, Chamunorwa JP, Erlwanger KH. Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012;9(61).
- Cleveland Clinic website. The benefits of honey + how to incorporate it into your diet. 12 Oct 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-benefits-of-honey-how-to-incorporate-it-into-your-diet/. Accessed 13 Jan 2021.
- LaMotte S. The proven health benefits of honey. 9 Mar 2018. CNN website. https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/15/health/honey-health-benefits/index.html. Accessed 14 Jan 2021.
- Nutrition Data: Know What You Eat site. Honey nutrition facts & calories. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5568/2. Accessed 14 Jan 2021.
- Eteraf-Oskouei T, Najafi M. Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2013;16(6):731-742.
- Ajibola A, Chamunorwa JP, Erlwanger KH. Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012; 9(61).
- Emsen IM. A different and safe method of split thickness skin graft fixation: medical honey application. Burns. 2007;33(6):782–787.
- Wound Source site. The four stages of wound healing. 28 Apr 2016. https://www.woundsource.com/blog/four-stages-wound-healing. Accessed 14 Jan 2021.
- Samarghandia S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and health: a review of recent clinical research. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017; 9(2): 121–127.
- Gunnars K. 10 surprising health benefits of honey. 5 Sept 2018. Healthline website. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-honey. Accessed 13 Jan 2021.
- Ahmed S, Sulaiman SA, Baig AA, et al. Honey as a potential natural antioxidant medicine: an insight into its molecular mechanisms of action. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018;19.
- Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A, Kazerouni O. Evidence for clinical use of honey in wound healing as an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory anti-oxidant and anti-viral agent: a review. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. 2013; 8(3):100–104.
- Molan PC. The potential of honey to promote oral wellness. Gen Dent. 2001;49(6):584