Effects of Honey
Medical Fact or Fiction?
M. Sc. Student,
University of Guelph, May 1995.
ancient times people have speculated about honey's curative properties.
The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Egyptians used honey to
heal wounds and cure disease of the gut (Zumla and Lulat, 1989).
Until recently, there was little scientific evidence to support
therapeutic uses of honey. Lately, however, many studies have shown
that honey has valid medical use because of its antibacterial activity.
This article focuses on the potential importance of honey in modern
day medicine due to its antibacterial properties.
of Burn Wounds and Skin Ulcers with Honey
(1991) conducted a study comparing a conventional method of burn
treatment (silver sulfadiazine) with topical applications of honey.
Burn patients of a variety of ages were divided into two treatment
groups. The burns of patients in Group 1 were cleaned with saline
solution and pure, undiluted, unprocessed honey was applied daily.
Burns of Group 2 (control) were cleaned and covered with gauze that
was soaked in 5% silver sulfadiazine which was changed daily. Results
showed that within 7 days 91% of the infected wounds treated with
honey were free of infection, compared to less than 7% of the silver
sulfadiazine treated burns. Within 15 days, 87% of the honey treated
wounds were healed whereas only 10% of the control group wounds
were healed. Patients treated with honey experienced less irritation,
more relief of pain, and no allergic reactions or side effects.
(1991) suggests that honey is effective for treatment of burn wounds
because: 1) It prevents infection because of its antibacterial or
bacteriostatic properties (i.e., inhibits the growth of both Gram-
negative and Gram-positive bacteria). 2) It provides a viscous barrier
to fluid loss and wound invasion by bacteria thus preventing infection.
3) It contains enzymes which may aid the healing process by promoting
tissue formation. 4) It absorbs edema fluid (pus) thereby cleaning
the wound. 5) It reduces pain and irritation and eliminates offensive
(1988) showed that various types of wounds and skin ulcers which
had not responded to conventional methods of treatment such as antibiotics
and medicated dressings responded favorably to a topical honey treatment.
Wounds and ulcer types treated with honey included: Fournier's gangrene,
burn wounds topical ulcers, bed sores, and diabetic ulcers. After
the wounds were cleaned with saline, honey and clean bandages were
applied daily. Infected wounds that had not responded to conventional
treatments were free of infection within 7 days of the first honey
application. Following treatment with honey, dead tissue was quickly
replaced with healthy granulation tissue. In some cases, diabetic
ulcers were successfully treated with honey and skin grafts, thus
preventing amputation. Apparently, the antibacterial properties
of honey allow it to work on wounds and skin ulcers in the same
manner it works on burns.
antibacterial activity of honey is partially due to its osmotic
effects (Molan, 1992a). Honey is a saturated or super saturated
solution of sugars and is said to have osmotic properties (i.e.,
water-with drawing). Water molecules strongly react with the sugars
in honey leaving little water available for micro-organisms. The
bacteria that cause infection are unable to survive in honey because
they become dehydrated. Molan (1992a) compared the antibacterial
activity of natural honey to artificial honey solutions (i.e., super
saturated solutions of sugars of the same proportion as those in
honey). Results showed that these artificial honey solutions did
not have the same degree of antibacterial activity as natural honey,
indicating that while the removal of water from bacteria is important,
other factors are operating to provide the observed antibacterial
presence of hydrogen peroxide generated by the enzymatic activity
of glucose oxidase in dilute honey also contributes to its antibacterial
activity (Molan, 1992a). As hydrogen peroxide decomposes, it generated
highly reactive free radicals which react with and kill bacteria
(Note: Prior to chemical identification of hydrogen peroxide, it
was often referred to as inhibine in the literature).
of Infant Gastroenteritis and Stomach Ulcers Using Honey
paper by Haffejee and Moosa (1985) studied the effects of orally
or intravenously administering dilute honey for the treatment of
gastroenteritis compared with a usual treatment of glucose solution
(control). Gastroenteritis is acute diarrhea caused by human rotovirus
(Tallett et.al., 1977). This disease is highly contagious and mainly
effects young children, but can also occur in adults. The disease
is characterized by diarrhea accompanied with fever and vomiting
at the onset. Gastroenteritis is a major health problem that has
been found in all continents and all races. Haffejee and Moose (1985)
found that the honey treatment shortened the duration of diarrhea
in patients with bacterial gastroenteritis. Patients with bacterial
gastroenteritis who were treated with honey had a mean recovery
time of 58.00 hours compared with 93.13 hours for the control patients.
Improved treatment of gastroenteritis with use of honey can be explained
by its antibacterial properties.
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