A spoonful of honey can do more than just satisfy your sweet tooth — it might improve your health.
For centuries, the natural sweetener has served as a versatile healing agent. Folk remedies featuring honey have long been used to treat ailments ranging from the common cold to constipation.
After the development of antibiotics and other modern drugs, honey fell from favor as a medicinal agent in the 1940s, but lately, it’s making a comeback. A growing body of scientific evidence proving the health benefits of honey is putting this ancient remedy back into modern day medicine chests.
In a recent issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice, researchers reviewed 18 studies on honey performed over the past 60 years. They concluded that the natural sweetener appears to be a viable treatment for surgical wounds, especially those that become infected or fail to heal properly.
Hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients in honey make it useful for sterilizing infected wounds and preventing infection. When used as a topical dressing, it reduced amputation rates among diabetic patients.
Honey has been shown to have potent antibiotic properties. Scientists have discovered that it naturally produces hydrogen peroxide, a substance capable of killing disease-causing bacteria.
Its high concentration of sugar, low moisture content and acidic pH create an inhospitable environment for invading organisms. Because it fights bacteria in numerous ways, it’s ideal for combating superbugs that have developed resistance to standard antibiotics.
Additional natural ingredients appear to reduce inflammation and speed the repair of damaged tissue. Honey covers injured tissue with a thick, protective barrier, preventing contamination with dirt and germs. Each of these healing properties makes honey an excellent wound dressing. As an added bonus, it’s far less expensive than comparable medicinal products.
Researchers in India found that when burn victims’ wounds were treated with honey, they experienced less pain and scarring than those treated with more conventional medications. Superficial burns covered with honey-laden skin dressings healed far faster than those treated with silver sulfadiazine, an ointment commonly prescribed for mild to moderate burns.
While honey’s antibiotic properties help promote faster wound healing, its antifungal properties can provide relief for many common skin conditions, including ringworm, athlete’s foot and yeast infections.
As a fungus-fighter, honey appears to be comparable to many over-the-counter antifungal preparations.
Scientists recently found that psoriasis sufferers may benefit from applications of a mixture of honey, beeswax and olive oil. In a study of people suffering from psoriasis and other inflammatory skin disorders, 60 percent showed significant improvement when treated with the honey-based mixture.
Honey’s healing powers may also work from the inside out, boosting the body’s natural disease-fighting ability when taken by mouth. To test this theory, researchers at the University of California, Davis, asked volunteers to consume about four tablespoons of honey daily for one month.
Blood samples taken at the beginning and end of the 30-day period showed a direct link between honey consumption and levels of disease-fighting antioxidants in the bloodstream.
The results of the study led researchers to conclude that consuming honey on a daily basis can help protect individuals from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress is known to contribute to a number of chronic conditions, including Alzheimer’s, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The antioxidants in honey, called polyphenols, are similar to those found in fruits, vegetables and olive oil. Polyphenols are thought to reduce the risk of many diseases by disarming disease-causing free radicals in the body.
If you like the flavor of honey, you might want to use it as a marinade for meat. Not only does it promote browning and glaze formation, it reduces the production of cancer-causing compounds during grilling and frying.
One type of carcinogen, called heterocyclic aromatic amine, is formed when high cooking temperatures cause meats to char or blacken. Researchers at Michigan State University demonstrated that when meats are covered in marinades consisting of 30 percent honey for four hours, formation of HAA during cooking is significantly reduced.
Honey shouldn’t be given to children younger than one year of age. Occasionally, it can contain spores of the bacteria known to cause botulism, a rare but potentially fatal condition, especially in infants.
For healthy adults, small amounts are not only safe, they might even be beneficial. Whether you spread it on your bread or slather it on your skin, a spoonful of honey is good medicine.
Rallie McAllister is a board-certified family physician, speaker and the author of several books, including “Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.” Her website is http://www.rallieonhealth.com. To find out more about Rallie McAllister, M.D., and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.
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