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Honey: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

By Dr Siddharth Gupta +2 more

Introduction:

Since ancient times, honey has been considered one of the most valued and appreciated food products. It is a natural product formed from the nectar of flowers by honeybees, also called Apis mellifera, belonging to the family Apidae. Honey is the only insect-derived natural product with potential nutritional, therapeutic, cosmetic, and industrial values. Honey might be helpful for several conditions like asthma, throat infection, eye diseases, hiccups, tuberculosis, dizziness, fatigue, piles, hepatitis, and constipation.1

Honey is a sweet, thick fluid produced by bees from plant nectars and is commonly used as a sweetener in food. It has several other names like Clarified Honey, Chestnut Honey, Beri Honey, Blossom Honey, Buckwheat Honey, Honeydew Honey, Madhu, Honig, Jellybush Honey, Manuka Honey, Medihoney, Langnese honey, Miel Blanc, Purified Honey, Tualang Honey, Wildflower and Thyme Honey, and Strained Honey.2

honey uses benefits and side effects

Nutritional Value of Honey:

Honey contains the following nutrients:3

NutrientAmount
Water15.92 %
Protein0.42 %
Fat0.53 %
Carbohydrate88.97 g/100 g
Glucose37.64 g/100 g
Energy15.56 MJ/Kg
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)0.01 mg/100 g
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.02 mg/100 g
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)0.15 mg/100 g
Vitamin B50.07 g/100 g
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)0.17 mg/100 g
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)0.006 mg/100 g
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)2.35 mg/100 g
Vitamin K0.025 mg/100 g
Iron (Fe)0.03-4 mg/100 g
Calcium (Ca)3-31 mg/100 g
Potassium (K)40-3500 mg/100 g
Sodium (Na)1.6-17 mg/100 g
Chlorine (Cl)0.4-56 mg/100 g
Fluoride (F)0.4-1.34 mg/100 g
Iodide (I)10-100 mg/100 g
Magnesium (Mg)0.7-13 mg/100 g
Copper (Cu)0.02-0.6 mg/100 g
Zinc (Zn)0.05-2 mg/100 g

Table depicting the nutritional value of honey3

Did you know that honey has been used as a medicine for thousands of years? Stone age paintings provide evidence of its medicinal use dating back 8,000 years. Ancient scrolls, tablets, and books, including Sumerian clay tablets (6,200 BC), Egyptian papyri (1,900–1,250 BC), Veda (5,000 years ago), the Holy Koran, the Bible, and the writings of Hippocrates (460–357 BC), all highlight the widespread and longstanding use of honey as a beneficial substance.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Also Read: Does Honey Expire? Unveiling The Truth About Honey’s Shelf Life

Properties of honey:

Honey might have several properties including:1

  • It might have antioxidant activity
  • It might have antimicrobial (kills microorganisms) activity
  • It might have anti-inflammatory potential
  • It might act as an immunity enhancer
  • It might have heart protective activity
  • It might have brain protective activity
  • It might have stomach protective activity
  • It might have wound healing property1

Also Read: Black Salt: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, Precautions & More!

In my experience, I have observed that honey consists mainly of carbohydrates, making up around 95-97% of its dry weight. However, it’s not just about carbs. Honey also contains essential elements like proteins, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and organic acids. All these components work together to provide various health benefits, making honey a remarkable natural remedy.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Potential uses of Honey for Condition:

1. Potential uses of honey for antioxidant activity:

The property of honey due to antioxidant activity is related to the brightness of the honey. Darker honey has been found to have a higher value of antioxidants. In studies, the phenolic compounds present in honey are found to be responsible for antioxidant activity. It can be used as a dietary antioxidant.1

Oxidative stress damages the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Reactive oxygen species (ROS), also called free radicals, have roles in diabetes, cancer, gastritis, ageing, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, and several ulcers. Honey contains antioxidant compounds derived from pollen sources and might have the ability to reduce these oxidative reactions. It might help remove the ROS and may reduce DNA damage.4

Read More: What Are Antioxidants And Why Do We Need Them?

2. Benefits of honey for inflammation:

Honey might have the potential to reduce inflammatory responses as seen in cell cultures, animal models, and clinical trials (in humans).1 Mostly, inflammation occurs during the healing process. During the healing process, mild inflammation is considered normal but harmful. It triggers the activity of leukocytes and therefore produces free radicals. Honey contains polyphenols that have the oxidising ability and might provide a subsequent anti-inflammatory effect by reducing nitric oxide production.4

The phenolic content present in honey may be responsible for anti-inflammatory activity. The flavonoids and phenolic compounds present in honey might block the cyclooxygenase-2 and nitric oxide synthase, which are responsible for inflammation.1

3. Potential uses of honey for heart-related diseases:

Honey contains antioxidants like polyphenols, monophenols, flavonoids, vitamin C that may be linked with a reduced risk of heart failure.1 In a study daily intake of flavonoids was found to be linked with a reduced risk of heart-related diseases. Flavonoids might have some effect on heart-related diseases maybe by improving the blood flow to the heart, lowering blood clotting, and inhibiting low-density lipoprotein from oxidising.5 Heart conditions are serious and must be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Therefore, kindly consult a doctor.

4. Potential uses of honey for diabetes:

In a study, honey used in type 1 and 2 diabetes was found to lower the glycaemic index more (glycaemic index shows how quickly each food affects the blood sugar level) compared with glucose or sucrose used in diabetic patients. There In a study, honey used in type 1 and 2 diabetes might have the potential to lower the glycaemic index more (glycaemic index shows how quickly each food affects the blood sugar level) compared with glucose or sucrose used in diabetic patients. There was a lower rise in plasma glucose levels in diabetic patients given honey compared to diabetic patients given dextrose. It might also lower the blood lipids, homocysteine, and C-reactive protein levels in diabetic patients. Also, it was found that honey might help promote the secretion of insulin, may lower blood glucose levels, might help raise haemoglobin concentration, and might improve the lipid profile.5 Kindly consult a doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions such as diabetes.

Read More: 10 Effective Home Remedies For Diabetes!

5. Potential uses of honey for healing wounds:

The most effective and most studied use of honey might have potential wound healing properties. Applying honey as a wound dressing might help improve the healing process and may help quickly clear the infection. It might have a cleansing action on wounds, may help tissue regeneration, and might lower inflammation.5 However, more research is required.

6. Potential uses of honey for killing bacteria:

In traditional medicine,In traditional medicine, the antibacterial activity of honey is one of the most significant findings that was first recognised in 1892. It has been reported that honey might have an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria, including gram-positive, gram-negative, aerobes (microorganisms that grow in the presence of oxygen), and anaerobes (microorganisms that grow in the absence of oxygen). Honey may act as both bactericidal (kills bacteria) and bacteriostatic (stops bacterial growth) depending on the concentration used.5

7. Potential uses of honey for cancer:

Honey is described in a study as a potential effect of acting as a cancer vaccine as it might lower prolonged inflammation which is considered a risk factor for the growth of cancer. Honey might have high antioxidant content, and therefore it might show anticancer activity by stopping the spread of various cancer cells and enhancing the early death of these cancer cells. These cancer cells might include sarcomas, bone cancer, carcinomas, cancer cell lines, experimental cancers, and breast cancer.3 However, cancer is a serious condition and must be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Though there are studies that show the potential uses of honey in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of honey on human health.  

Based on my experience, I have observed that honey may offer benefits for neurological diseases. It has shown anxiolytic effects for reducing anxiety and also acts a potential antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and antinociceptive agent. Honey’s ability to reduce oxidative stress in the central nervous system can contribute to improved neurological health.

Dr. Smita Barode, BAMS

How to Use Honey?

Honey can be used:

  • As creams
  • In gauzes and dressings
  • As drops
  • As gels
  • Orally2

Your Ayurvedic physician will prescribe you the form and dose as per your requirement.

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor. 

Also Read: Is Honey Good for Diabetes? Unveiling the Research Behind the Sweet Remedy

Side Effects of Honey:

  • Honey is somewhat free of side effects, but the topical application of honey may cause a temporary stinging sensation.
  • Allergy caused due to honey is rare, but the allergic reactions could be either due to bee protein in honey or pollen.
  • Applying too much honey may lead to dehydration of tissues that can be restored using saline packs.
  • Theoretically, there is a risk of a rise in blood glucose levels if honey is applied to the large open wound in the case of diabetic patients.
  • There is a risk of wound botulism (acute food poisoning) due to the presence of spores of Clostridia.5

Honey is primarily safe for most adults, but if the honey is produced from the nectar of rhododendrons (plant species, also called red tree), then it is relatively unsafe, as it may contain toxins that might cause chest pain, heart problems, and low blood pressure.2

Also Read: Aloe Vera: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Precautions to Take With Honey:

  • Diabetes: honey contains sugar and should be used in moderate amounts. Using large amounts of honey might raise the blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There is no sufficient data on its safety during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
  • Children: Avoid using honey in infants under 12 months of age. It is possibly unsafe when taken by mouth by children under 12 months of age. Botulism poisoning is a risk at this age. It is considered safe for older children.
  • Pollen allergies: Honey is made from pollen and may cause allergic reactions. Do not consume honey if you are allergic to pollen.2

Therefore, honey should be used cautiously.

Also Read: Manuka Honey: Research-Based Insights into Its Unique Health Benefits

Interactions With Other Drugs:

  • Honey may interact with anticoagulant/antiplatelet medicines and might slow blood clotting. If honey is consumed with these medications, it might increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.
  • Honey might interact with phenytoin and may increase the phenytoin absorbed by the body.
  • Some medicines are altered and broken down by the liver. Honey might interact with such medicines. It might change how quickly the liver breaks down these medicines.2

Therefore, kindly consult a doctor and confirm if it is safe for you to consume honey.

Also Read: Pink Himalayan Salt: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, Precautions & More!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is honey good for acne?

No, applying honey for acne on the face doesn’t treat acne.2

Can honey be used on wounds?

Honey might be helpful for wounds. It might help reduce the pus and odour, may clean the wound, might lower the infection and pain, and may reduce the time for healing.2 However, sufficient scientific evidence is not present. Therefore, ensure that you consult a doctor and get your wounds properly treated. Kindly do not self-medicate.

Can honey be used for burns?

Applying honey preparations to burns may have the potential to help improve healing.2 However, more research is required. Kindly consult a doctor. Do not self-medicate.

Can honey be used on the face in case of redness?

Honey might be used for application directly to the face, and it may help lower the redness.2 However, more research is required to ascertain such possible effects of honey.

Is honey safe?

Honey is mainly found to be safe in adults, but it can be unsafe if the honey is produced from the nectar of rhododendrons. It may contain toxins that cause chest pain, low blood pressure, and heart problems.2

Can honey be used during pregnancy?

There is no sufficient data on its safe usage during pregnancy. Consult your doctor before using honey during pregnancy.

Should honey be given to children?

Avoid giving honey to infants under 12 months of age. It can be given to older children and adults.2

Can honey be used during breastfeeding?

There is insufficient data on its safe usage during breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before using honey during breastfeeding.

Is honey good for constipation?

Honey may be helpful for constipation.1 However, more research is required to prove such effects. Kindly consult a doctor.

Is there any allergy related to honey?

Allergic reactions to honey are rare but can be caused either due to bee protein or pollen in honey.5

References:

1. Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and health: A review of recent clinical research. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017;9(2):121–7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424551/

2. Honey [Internet]. medlinePlus National Library of Medicine. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/738.html

3. Ajibola A. Novel Insights into the Health Importance of Natural Honey. Malays J Med Sci [Internet]. 2015 Sep;22(5):7–22. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295738/#:~:text=The daily intake of natural,thereby providing succour to patients.

4. Jibril FI, Hilmi ABM, Manivannan L. Isolation and characterization of polyphenols in natural honey for the treatment of human diseases. Bull Natl Res Cent. 2019;43(1). Available at: https://bnrc.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s42269-019-0044-7

5. Eteraf-Oskouei T, Najafi M. Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci [Internet]. 2013 Jun;16(6):731–42. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23997898

Also Read: Sabudana: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects & More!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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