Medicinal uses and health effects of honey*
For at least 2700 years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, though it was not until modern times that the cause of infection was understood. Now, it is understood that the folk remedy of using honey to treat wounds has a scientific explanation: it acts as an antiseptic/antibacterial agent. As an antimicrobial agent honey has potential for treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, hydrogen peroxide effect, and high acidity.
Honey is primarily a saturated mixture of two monosaccharides. This mixture has a low water activity; most of the water molecules are associated with the sugars and few remain available for microorganisms, so it is a poor environment for their growth.
Hydrogen peroxide in honey is activated by dilution. However, unlike medical hydrogen peroxide, commonly 3% by volume, it is present in a concentration of only 1 mmol/l in honey. Iron in honey oxidizes the oxygen free radicals released by the hydrogen peroxide.
glucose + H2O + O2 → gluconic acid + H2O2
When used topically (as, for example, a wound dressing), hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic. Unlike 3% medical hydrogen peroxide, this slow release does not cause damage to surrounding tissue.
The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria responsible for infection.
According to relatively new findings, honey may have some significant nutraceutical effects (or positive long-term health effects resulting from honey's consumption). In addition to its primary carbohydrate content, honey often contains polyphenols, which can act as antioxidants. As a nutritional element, antioxidants prevent oxidative stress to cells throughout the body. The antioxidants of honey have even been implicated in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitis. Furthermore, honey has been shown to be effective in increasing the populations of probiotic bacteria in the gut, which may help strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, lower cholesterol and prevent colon cancer.
These positive health effects of honey are consistent with its use in many traditions of folk medicine.
Other medical applications
The most common use of honey is as an anti-microbial agent used for dressing wounds, burns and skin ulcers. This application has a long history in traditional medicine. Additionally, the use of honey reduces odors, reduces swelling, and reduces scarring; it also prevents the dressing from sticking to the healing wound.
Some claim that one drop of honey directly on the eye can treat mild forms of conjunctivitis.
Due to its antiseptic properties, honey (especially when combined with lemon) can be taken orally by Pharyngitis and Laryngitis sufferers, in order to soothe them.
Though widely believed to alleviate allergies, local honey has been shown to be no more effective than placebos in controlled studies. This may be due to the fact that most seasonal allergies are caused by tree and grass pollens, which honeybees do not collect.