The Health Benefits of Raw Honey

The health benefits of raw honey make it a delicious remedy for a number of ailments. While following Pooh Bear’s example of copious honey consumption might not be the best idea idea, when used appropriately, raw honey can have powerful positive effects.

 

Raw honey is better than processed honey.

Most honey that is sold today has been filtered and heated above 115 degrees Farenheit in a pasteurization process. However, in eliminating bacteria, pasteurization also kills or alters protective microbes and other beneficial components, like enzymes and pollen, which afford honey many of its healing properties.

Raw honey, on the other hand, is transferred directly from the hive to your honey jar without any processing in between, so it retains all the good components that make honey so medicinal.

Indeed, some might argue that the pasteurization of honey is entirely useless, because raw honey has been shown to be anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. This means that raw honey itself can combat any negative bacteria that pasteurization intends to eliminate, while simultaneously helping the body react to adverse environmental stimuli in a more balanced way.

 

Part of raw honey’s power stems from propolis.

Propolis is composed of a complex mixture of tree resins and other substances that honeybees use to seal the hive, warding off external invasions of bacteria and other micro-organisms. Found in trace amounts in honey, it is nonetheless a powerful contributor to raw honey’s medicinal potential.

From a chemical standpoint, propolis contains more than 180 compounds, including caffeic acid phenethyl ester, which has been shown to inhibit cancer growth, as well as organic acids which contribute to its antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral effects, in addition to an abundance of flavinoids. Pinocembrin is the most abundant flavonoid in propolis, and has been proven to be a powerful neuroprotective. In fact, there is speculation that it might prevent Alzheimer’s disease!

Sadly, when raw honey is extensively processed and heated, the benefits of these phytonutrients are largely eliminated.

So how can raw honey be used?

 

External Skin Conditions

Surprisingly, most studies involving raw honey have investigated not its internal consumption benefits, but instead focus on honey’s effects on external skin conditions like burns, wounds, and infections. The results have been astounding, displaying an efficacy comparable to local antibiotics[1].

The sugars in honey are strongly hydrophilic, meaning they attract water easily. Because of this quality, honey draws out excess moisture from wounds, allowing the body to heal faster. The removal of fluid from wound-sites also makes the wound site less habitable for bacteria and fungi, thereby averting infection.

Moreover, once the honey draws the water out, a very important chemical reaction happens. The glucose oxidase in honey reacts with the drawn-out water, forming hydrogen peroxide, a well-known gentle antiseptic[2].

Mix in the added benefits of bee pollen, enzymes, and propolis found in raw honey, and you have a potent boost of new healthy tissue growth. Combined with its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, the revitalizing potential of these components makes raw honey a speedy remedy for burns and wounds. It also renders honey helpful as a facial treatment to combat both wrinkles and acne, as well as making it effective in lessening the appearance and severity of old scars, eczema, warts, and other skin conditions.

 

Allergies

Worker-bees spend their time traveling between flowers, collecting nectar which they then transform into honey with the help of their hive colony. To get to the nectar, honeybees have to climb through lots of pollen, which sticks to their bodies as they fly around from flower to flower. Inevitably, bits of pollen fall off when they land on a new flower, and this transference helps plants reproduce.

As anyone who’s ever sniffed a lily knows, pollen likes to spread itself out and stick once it lands. Unfortunately for many, the stimulus of air-born pollen can prove to be too much. This results in symptoms like itchy eyes and runny noses for allergy sufferers, as their bodies try to extract the pollen from their systems.

Aside from helping the plants in our environment propagate, the fact that honeybees so easily transport pollen actually has an added benefit for those prone to seasonal allergies. The trace amounts of pollen that are found in honey act as sort of natural vaccine. Specifically, they provide the body with a test-run, gently teaching it to deal with the onslaught of pollen found in the environment.

Because the pollen that people react to is specific to the environment, when treating seasonal allergies it is important that honey is as local as possible. If honey from further away is used, the pollen will be different and won’t effectively prepare the body for the local environmental changes that cause seasonal allergies.

*A note to those with extreme allergies and asthma: sometimes even a little bit of pollen can be too much. If you are a highly allergic person, please take appropriate cautions and consult your healthcare provider before attempting self-treatment.

 

Prevention

Small amounts of raw honey can also be taken as preventative measures to ward-off more serious illnesses. Its antibacterial properties can prevent or counteract food poisoning caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, as well as combating uncomfortable bacterial ulcers.

Raw honey also has a preservative quality which prevents food from fermenting in the gut and boosts overall digestion. This also makes it an effective remedy for morning sickness.

Honey has also been shown to lower blood glucose levels in diabetes[4], and long term consumption of honey may have a positive effect on the metabolic derangements common in diabetes mellitus[5]. Indeed, studies have shown that honey can balance cholesterol levels and potentially lower the risks of cardiovascular disease[6]

It should be noted that the jury is out on raw honey’s glycemic index, though many sources claim it is much lower than that of processed honey. Therefore also makes it a better choice than regular processed sugar.

As is the case for any natural substance, the potency of any specific honey’s components varies depending on the environment in which it was made. As a rule of thumb though, you can assume that when in the unprocessed form, darker honeys have greater antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

 

Please note that although it is a gentle and very safe remedy for older individuals, honey should never be given to children under a year of age.

Young children haven’t yet developed the immune systems to effectively handle the C. botulinum spores that are present in honey, meaning if they consume honey they could potentially develop botulism.

 

So go to your local farmer’s market, food co-op, or grocery store and ask for the most local honey they have available. Replace processed sugar with raw honey and see how much better you feel.

A spoonful a day might just keep the doctor away!

 



[1] J Med Food. 2004 Summer;7(2):210-22. “Investigating the antimicrobial activity of natural honey and its effects on the pathogenic bacterial infections of surgical wounds and conjunctiva.” Al-Waili NS.

[2] Broadhurst, C. Leigh. Bee Products: Medicine From the Hive Nutrition Science News. August 1999, Vol. 4., No. 8:366, 368. October 30, 1999.

[3] Marchisio P, Esposito S, Bianchini S, et al. Effectiveness of a propolis and zinc solution in preventing acute otitis media in children with a history of recurrent acute otitis media.Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2010 Apr-Jun;23(2):567-75

[4] Mousavi SM, Imani S, Haghighi S, Mousavi SE, Karimi A. Effect of Iranian Honey bee (Apis mellifera) Venom on Blood Glucose and Insulin in Diabetic Rats. J Arthropod Borne Dis. 2012 Dec;6(2):136-43. Epub 2012 Dec 31.

[5] Abdulrhman MM, El-Hefnawy MH, Aly RH, Shatla RH, Mamdouh RM, Mahmoud DM, Mohamed WS. Metabolic effects of honey in type 1 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover pilot study. J Med Food. 2013 Jan;16(1):66-72. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.0108. Epub 2012 Dec 20.

[6] Alagwu EA, Okwara JE, Nneli RO, Osim EE. Effect of honey intake on serum cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoprotein levels in albino rats and potential benefits on risks of coronary heart disease.  Niger J Physiol Sci. 2011 Dec 20;26(2):161-5.

 

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