• Honey, nature’s golden treasure

Honey, nature’s golden treasure

 

You think you knew it all about ‘Honey’? Think again. Nature’s golden treasure keeps on giving.

 

You have it on toast, you sweeten your tea with it, you use it as a substitute when baking, and one spoon full when that throat tickles!

Yes, honey has been mankind’s best friend, second to dogs, for some time! Its history has been intertwined with that of human communities over the span of millennia. Humans have been able to recognise its amazing value as a nutritious food item, a sweetener and a cure for ailments and wounds.

 

So, how is honey made exactly?

If you have ever heard the expression ‘busy bees’ then you will really appreciate where the say comes from.

Honey is a golden, sweet, viscous liquid produced by bees from flower nectar. It is used as food for forager bees or as a long-term food supply for the entire hive [1]. A forager bee will require more than an hour and over one thousand flowers to gather 40mg of nectar[1] . That might explain why flowers are critical to our bee population and to our jars of honey.

To gather the all-important nectar, a forager bee will travel up to one mile per day around the hive[2]. Once the forager bee has collected the nectar, it will then store it in its honey stomach. This is where enzymes and proteins will be added to it prompting a chemical reaction.

When the forager bee returns to the hive, it will then transfer the nectar to the hive bees by regurgitating it. Through such multiple transfers, the nectar will be transformed and the resulting substance, the honey, will then be ready to be stored in the honeycomb as a food supply.

A really brief history of honey

The earliest records of honey harvesting come from cave paintings dating back 8000BC found in the Araña Caves in eastern Spain[1][3]. The paintings show a human figure harvesting it from a wild bee colony – usually the bees would be smoked out from the hive and thus the colony would be destroyed in the process[3][4].

Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all revered the golden liquid and used it as a gift to the gods, in their funeral rituals, as an ingredient in recipes or in traditional medicine to treat their ailments and wounds[4].

With Christianity, beekeeping proliferated as the demand of beeswax increased to allow for more church candles to be made. Honey was used as a staple sweetener until the 17th century when sugar became more easily available[4].

In modern times, it is still being used and enjoyed by people all over the world. In 2018, the global production amounted to 1.9 million tons, with China being the most important producer (24%), followed by Turkey and Iran[1].

The virtuous properties of honey

Honey contains large amounts of monosaccharides, fructose and glucose[1]. High-quality honey is rich in antioxidants, such as organic acids and phenolic compounds, e.g. flavonoids[5]. According to Wikipedia, 100g of product has a nutritional value of 304 kcal with low amounts of minerals such as iron, zinc, and vitamins such as vitamin B2 and B6[1].

Benefits of honey

Wounds and burns

Honey has been used to treat wounds and burns for millennia. Studies have proven the benefits of utilising the viscous liquid as a biologic wound dressing[4][7][8]. When applied to a wound or a burn, it will draw the fluid out of the wound bed, stimulating the flow of lymph and expediting healing [7][8][9].

Honey is acidic with a pH of 3.2 – 4.5 which also promotes healing through the release of oxygen from haemoglobin[7][8].

It has a broad spectrum antibacterial effect, however its efficacy greatly differs depending on the type utilised in treatment[7][8][9].

Today, many dressings use it as a key active ingredient to treat wounds, owing to its antibacterial activity. Often these dressings will be manufactured using alginate fibres or modified cellulose fibres. The honey alginate dressings are then used to promote healing in a moist environment. The high viscosity of the honey provides a barrier to prevent infections. The antimicrobial activity is primarily due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide[10].   

Manuka honey however displays significant antibacterial effects despite the hydrogen peroxide activity being blocked. It is thought that its high pH and sugar content (high osmolarity meaning high concentration) are enough to hinder microbial growth. Manuka honey in fact has been shown to be effective against many pathogens such as E. Coli, Salmonella typhirium, S. Aureus [11] to name a few.

Diarrhoea

Research has shown that honey can be used to reduce an episode of diarrhoea in terms of duration and severity[12].

Acute cough

According to the guidelines of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England, honey may be used as a self-care treatment of acute cough caused by infections to the upper tract respiratory system[13][14]. Clinical trials have suggested it can be used to relieve cough symptoms in adults and children over 1 year of age[13][14]. 

Acid reflux

Honey might help prevent acid reflux by lining the oesophagus and stomach thanks to its viscous nature[16].

Other medicinal uses

There have been claims that honey might help prevent or treat cancer, diabetes or heart disease. However, in order to validate these effects, scientist will need to perform further research. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine use the golden liquid to treat a variety of conditions, for example eczema, hiccups or eye problems. The efficacy of these treatments has not been scientifically proven[12].

Risks

In the case of an allergic reaction, some of the symptoms will include extreme swelling, trouble breathing, or vomiting. However, please check the NHS website for more information. Honey also presents a risk for children up to one year of age who might develop a condition called botulism. This is caused by a toxin which is absorbed in the intestines and affects the nervous system[14]. Please consult with your GP before you start any honey-based treatment.

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

2. https://www.bbka.org.uk/how-far-does-a-bee-fly-how-does-it-navigate

3. http://www.heathmonthoney.com.au/bees/HoneyHistory.htm

4. http://www.honeyassociation.com/about-honey/history

5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-honey

6. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/15/health/honey-health-benefits/index.html

7. https://www.healthline.com/health/honey-on-wounds

8. Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing. Peter Molan, Tanya Rhodes

9. Feasibility Study: Honey for Treatment of Cough in Children. Naveed Ahmed, Alastair Sutcliffe, Claire Tipper

10. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Manisha Deb Mandal, Shyamapada Mandal

11. Bactericidal activity of different honeys against pathogenic bacteria. Lusby PE, Coombes AL, Wilkinson JM. Arch Med Res. 2005 Sep-Oct; 36(5):464-7

12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264667

13. https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/honey-not-antibiotics-recommended-coughs/

14. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng120/chapter/summary-of-the-evidence#self-care-2

15. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR.

16. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/honey-for-acid-reflux#treatment

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