Most of us have honey in our homes, but you may think it belongs in the pantry rather than in the medicine cabinet.
However, ‘active’ honey has been used for centuries, both as a beauty product and as a medicine. Fast forward to the 21st century and people are still turning to active honey for its health benefits. But does honey really live up to all the hype?
Research has found that honey has been linked to the following health benefits:
- Antibacterial properties: Numerous studies have shown that active honey has anti-bacterial properties.
- Wound care: Due to its anti-bacterial properties, numerous studies have shown that active honey may help fight chronic wound infections and be a useful treatment for burns.
- Cough remedies: A 2013 study showed that a combination of honey and coffee was effective in treating persistent post-infectious cough. Another study from 2007 showed that honey provided better relief from night-time cough in children than over-the-counter medications.
- Skin care (eczema/dermatitis): A 2003 study showed that 80% of users of ointment containing honey, beeswax and olive oil experienced significant improvement in their eczema symptoms.
- Gastrointestinal problems: A mixture of honey, beeswax and olive oil has also been shown to be effective in treating haemorrhoids and anal fissures.
- Cancer: A 2014 review found that honey has anti-cancer properties. However, further research is required in this area.
Dr Ben McKee, Managing Director of Capilano Honey, says the secret to honey’s healing benefits is the antibacterial activity in the honey.
“When bees collect nectar from flowers, they introduce an enzyme to convert the nectar into honey. This enzyme produces an antibacterial activity in the honey called Hydrogen Peroxide Activity (HPA). Most honeys around the world have this activity when taken from the hive,” he says.
Dr McKee says that the HPA rating in honey varies greatly but some varieties such as Manuka, Jarrah, Rewarewa and Kanuka have higher than normal levels of HPA, enabling them to be used in a wide range of healing applications.
However, he does warn that HPA is unstable and easily destroyed through heat and light.
According to Dr McKee, the only honey that can retain strong antibacterial activity after heating is Manuka honey, derived from the Leptospermum tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand. However, not all Manuka honey has heightened antibacterial properties.
“Manuka honey needs to be laboratory tested to determine if it is active and the strength of its activity level,” he says.
The strength of Manuka honey is often stated as a strength number on the labels — e.g. NPA (Non Peroxide Activity) 10+ or UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor) 10+.
Dr McKee says that following extensive clinical testing in Australia and New Zealand, Mannuka honey is recognised to have unique health and healing properties. It is now used around the world in hospitals, burns units, family health care, digestive health care, beauty and skin care, veterinary practice, diabetes and other specialist clinics, as well as a general health food.
While initial findings into the health benefits of active honey are promising, research is ongoing. For individual advice, see your health care practitioner.
Note: Raw or unprocessed honey can contain the botulism bacteria. It is recommended that infants under 12 months not consume honey to reduce the risk of botulism infection.
2. Noori Al-Waili, Khelod Salom, and Ahmad A. Al-Ghamdi, ‘Honey for Wound Healing, Ulcers, and Burns; Data Supporting Its Use in Clinical Practice,’ The Scientific World JOURNAL, vol. 11, pp. 766-787, 2011.
3. Raeessi M A, Aslani J, Raeessi N, Gharaie H, Karimi Zarchi A A, Raeessi F, September 2013, ‘Honey plus coffee versus systemic steroid in the treatment of persistent post-infectious cough: a randomised controlled trial’, Primary Care Respiratory Journal, Volume 22, No. 3, pp325-330
4. Paul I M, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer M L, Duda L, Berlin C M, Jr., 2007. ‘Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents’ JAMA Pediatrics. Vol 161, No12 pp140-1146
5. Al-Waili N S, December 2003, ‘Topical application of natural honey, beeswax and olive oil mixture for atopic dermatitis or psoriasis: partially controlled, single-blinded study’, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp226-234
6. Al-Waili N S, Saloom KS, Al-Waili T N, Al-Waili A N, 2006,’The Safety and Efficacy of a Mixture of Honey, Oliver Oil, and Beeswax for the Management of Hemorrhoids and Anal Fissue: A Pilot Study’, The Scientific World Journal, Volume 6, pp1998-2005