The earliest records of beekeeping were in Cairo in 2400BC. The Ancient Egyptians used it as a sweetener and embalming fluid whereas the Ancient Greeks observed honey as a healing medicine as well as important food as well as other countries in Europe. However when sugar arrived, the usage of honey as a sweetener was reduced; instead it was employed for wounds, gastrointestinal diseases, cardiovascular-related and liver-related issues.
So what’s inside Honey?
Honey primarily consists of two sugars: fructose (disaccharide) and glucose (monosaccharide). Other constituents include oligosaccharides, minerals, amino acids, vitamins and enzymes. In addition, honey contains chemicals that work effectively as an synergistic antioxidant such as flavonoides, catalase, ascorbic acid and others.
Benefits of Honey
A) Anti-microbial activity
Honey can exhibit anti-bacterial activity against bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, Escherichia coli, Shigella and Salmonella. A study has shown that honey is effect as prenisolone treatment when used in colitis.
A hospital-based bacterial infection called MRSA; there has been studies were honey has shown antimicrobial activity under in-vitro conditions.
Another study examined the effects of honey on patients with UTI (urinary tract infections) that is normally caused by bacteria such as E.coli, S.faecalis and Proteus species. Results show that honey is effective as these type of bacteria are sensitive to honey due to its antibacterial activity.
As you can see from the above examples that honey is effective against bacterial infections; the question is how?
This is linked to its properties stated below:
1) Honey contains hydrogen peroxide which is synthesised by glucose oxidase that allows anti-bacterial activity to occur.
2) The amount of sugar in honey hinders bacterial growth (bactericidal) but is not the only reason for honey’s anti-bacterial activity as honey contains lysozymes, organic acids that also have anti-bacterial properties.
3) pH of honey is 3.2-4.5 – this is low acidity and is able to inhibit growth of majority of micro-organisms.
Besides, anti-bacterial activity, honey also has anti-viral effects. Studies have shown that topical honey was effective compared to acyclovir cream in managing recurrent lesions caused by herpes virus.
Another study reported that it has inhibitory effects on rubella virus.
Honey is able to inhibit the growth of fungus as well production of toxins.
Fungal infections such as cutaneous and superficial mycoses such as athletes foot and ringworm as well as for the treatment of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis have been found to respond to honey.
B) Anti-inflammatory activity.
Studies have shown that honey has anti-inflammatory activity against wounds such as abscess, burns, amputation, surgical. Ulcers and perineum as well as other types of wounds. It stimulates healing mechanism by stimulating tissue regeneration, reducing inflammation and clearing infection. The molecular mechanism of healing the wounds is still being studied however the type of wound and degree of severity play important factors in its effectiveness.
C) Honey and Heart diseases.
In the developed world, the rates of disability, mortality and economic costs are high for Ischaemic Heart Disease (IHD) than other diseases. Myocardial infarction (MI) and Arrhythmias (ventricular arrhythmias such as tachycardia and fibrillation cause high mortality rates – thus anti-arrhythmic drugs are prescribed) are serious manifestations of IHD.
Honey contains flavonoids which lowers the chance of cardiovascular diseases as it prevents low density lipoproteins (LDL) from oxidation, lower platelets’ ability in blood to clot and improve coronary vasodilation. It also has phenolic compounds that is really effective against coronary heart disease (CHD) due to its anti-oxidant, anti-ischaemic, vasorelaxant and anti-thrombotic properties.
In addition, nitric oxide (NO) levels in honey have a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases.
Moreover, honey is able to reduce the blood pressure in the veins which consequently lowers congestion.
D) Honey and Cancer
Some studies have shown that honey has anti-neoplastic activity in cancers such as bladder cancer.
E) Gastrointestinal tract diseases
Honey and Eye diseases
Studies have shown that topical honey as ointment appears to be effective against opthalmological conditions such as keratitis, conjunctivitis, burns and corneal injuries.
F) Honey and diabetes
Honey is effective against Type I and II Diabetes as studies have shown it can lower plasma glucose levels, blood lipids, C-reactive protein and homocystein levels. It also appears honey stimulates insulin secretion and elevates haemoglobin concentration.
Overall, there are many benefits of honey and before these studies have been performed; Allah has already revealed before mankind in the Glorious Quran:
‘Your Lord revealed to the bees: "Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow." From inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect.’ [16:69]