Honey + Health
WHAT IS SO GOOD ABOUT HONEY?
In the digestive system, we have millions of tiny bacteria. Good bacteria works to increase our ability to convert the food we eat into vital vitamins, antioxidants and essential brain-signalling molecules, whilst bad bacteria - if it outnumbers the good - causes disease (Al-Qassemi & Robinson, 2003).
Honey has been shown to be an effective prebiotic, meaning that it nourishes the essential good bacteria that populate our digestive system (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2012). It is the type of complex sugars in honey known as fructooligosaccarides that helps the good gut bacteria grow (Roberfroid et al, 2010). An Australian study recently showed that honey was as effective as the commercial prebiotic 'Inulin' (Cokcetin, 2015). Not only does honey support the growth of good bacteria but it can also kill bad bacteria and therefore has been shown to be effective in correcting digestive bacterial balance (Cokcetin, 2015).
Healthy bacterial balance in the gut has long been linked to good overall health but has more recently come into the spotlight - and it is fascinating (for me anyway!). New research shows that there is a direct connection between the balance of good bacteria and the health of the brain, called the gut-brain-connection (Burnet, 2012). It has been proven that high levels of good bacteria has a beneficial impact on mood, anxiety, capacity to problem solve and memory, as well as assist in the treatment of epilepsy (Burnet, 2012). Not all questions as to how this works have been answered, but it is certainly an exciting area of research.
Honey is a good source of antioxidants, meaning consumption of honey assists in the destruction of free radicals - the compounds that accelerate ageing and disease. One study found that honey can have approximately 0.79 - 1.71mg of antioxidants per gram of honey (variable depending on the type of flowers the bees foraged from) (Schramm et al, 2003). This study found that by consuming honey in place of other sweeteners (artificial or natural) can protect the body against oxidative stress (Schramm et al, 2003).
Want to know what honeys have the highest antioxidant levels? A study by Coulston (2000) found that the darker the honey, the higher the antioxidant content.
Did you know that honey is not just another type of sugar? Although honey is made up of various types of sugars, it also contains vitamins, minerals and proteins which work together to give honey its amazing antibacterial properties (Alvarex-Suarex et al, 2010). Historically honey was used as a medicine amongst the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans for wound healing and to prevent the spread of infections such as digestive and/or skin diseases (Eteraf-Oskouei & Najafi, 2012).
Across the world at the moment, honey and other natural antibacterials are again being recognised as viable weapons in medicine -specifically in the fight against antibiotic resistance (Irish et al, 2011). Using honey in medicine is called Apitherapy and is in instances where disease causing pathogens are not responding to conventional medicines/antibiotics.
For healthy individuals honey has been shown to reduce the number and spread of common bad bacterias in the digestive system from minor pathogens to the real nasties including E-Coli (causes diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and septicaemia) and salmonella to name just a few (Mandal & Mandal, 2011).
Do not cease a course of antibiotics without consulting your doctor. Apitherapy should be used in consultation with a health professional.
Another way that the antibacterial properties of honey have been put to use throughout history is in 'wound healing', where it is applied as a liquid bandage over a wound which not only prevents bacteria and other nasties from infecting the wound but also kills those that are already there.
How honey works to heal a wound:
The enzymes in the honey draws moisture away from the wound to dehydrate the bacteria and limit its spread (Alvarex-Suarez et al, 2010).
The sugar content of the honey makes a sticky protective barrier which nasties (bacteria, virus and other microbes) cannot get through (Mandal & Mandal, 2011)..
The sugar content and acidity of honey give it antiseptic properties - meaning it kills bacteria it is in contact with (Irish et al, 2011).
The anti-inflammatory properties of honey speed up tissue repair. By reducing the inflammation at the wound site the tissue is able to focus on repair rather than preventing infection (Alvarex-Suarez et al, 2010).
The intricate chemistry giving honey these incredible qualities can be destroyed when exposed to heat and therefore to attain these benefits it is important to purchase raw, untreated honey. Many companies heat their honey to prevent crystallisation - which is where the honey goes slightly solid. Nectar honey is not heat treated, it is as fresh from the hive as possible. Although it may crystallise - which can be reversed through gentle immersion in warm (not hot) water - the benefits it gives you is far superior to that of the large scale honey businesses.