Honey​—A Sweet Healer

SOME medical researchers are excited about the potent antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties of honey. The Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada reports: “Unlike the arsenal of sophisticated antibiotics that have hit a wall against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, honey is able to do battle with at least some of them when it comes to infected wounds.”

What is in honey that gives it the ability to affect healing? The answer involves the worker bee that gathers nectar from flowers. The bee’s saliva contains glucose-oxidase, a key enzyme that breaks down the glucose in the nectar. A by-product of this breakdown is hydrogen peroxide, which is traditionally used to clean and disinfect wounds. Normally, the effect of hydrogen peroxide when placed on a wound is short-lived; but with honey, the effect is different. “Once on a wound, the honey is somewhat diluted by the body’s fluids, and this decreases the natural acidity of honey,” says the Globe report. The enzyme goes into action in this less acidic environment. The breakdown of the sugar in honey is slow and constant. This process slowly releases hydrogen peroxide in amounts big enough to kill local bacteria while not adversely affecting surrounding healthy tissue.

Honey has several characteristics that can affect wound healing, according to the Globe. “A thin layer of honey provides a moist environment that protects the skin and prevents a hard scab from forming. Honey stimulates the growth and formation of new blood capillaries and triggers the cells that produce new skin to grow.” In addition, anti-oxidants in the honey possess an anti-inflammatory action that helps “reduce swelling, improve circulation and keep the wound from ‘weeping.’”

“Honey isn’t for everybody, however,” cautions the report. It is estimated that botulism spores are present in up to 5 percent of honey. Such agencies as Health Canada’s Botulism Reference Service as well as pediatric societies advise against giving honey to children under one year of age because “infants have not yet developed sufficient intestinal microflora to protect them from the bacterium.”