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10 Benefits and Side Effects of Honey (4 Contraindications To Be Noted)[Updated Feb/2023]

Honey is the product of bee colonies painstakingly collecting nectar, and it takes about 60,000 bees, flies 55,000 miles, and collects 2 million flowers to produce 1 pound of honey.

After the collected nectar, it is converted and matured by enzymes in the bees, and it becomes a delicacy.

What are the benefits of honey in empirical medicine? Are there any side effects or contraindications? See the latest analysis in the text for details

What is honey?

Honey is the product of bees collecting the nectar of plants combined with their own specific substances to be deposited, dehydrated, stored and matured in honeycombs.

According to the classification of flower sources, there are about 300 different types of nectar in the world. The most popular honey varieties include acacia honey, rapeseed honey, buckwheat honey, citrus honey and wildflower honey etc.

Honey consists of about 80% carbohydrates and about 19% water, and contains a variety of components such as organic acids, proteins, amino acids, minerals, polyphenols, vitamins, aromatic compounds, and enzymes.

What are the recommended proven benefits of honey?

  1. Honey is beneficial for allergic rhinitis

Rhinitis is widely defined as inflammation of the nasal mucosa, affecting up to 40% of the population, and Allergic rhinitis is the most common type of chronic rhinitis, with typical symptoms: nasal congestion, itchy nose, runny nose and sneezing. Allergic conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane that covers the white part of the eye) is also often associated with allergic rhinitis, and symptoms usually include redness, tearing, and itching of the eyes.

The goal of treatment for allergic rhinitis is to relieve symptoms. Treatment options that can be used to achieve this include allergen avoidance, nasal saline rinsing, oral antihistamines, intranasal corticosteroids, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and allergen immunotherapy.

A randomized placebo-controlled trial (4 weeks, 40 patients with allergic rhinitis) noted that intake of oral antihistamines (loratadine) combined with high-dose honey (daily dose of 1 gram per kilogram of body weight) showed significant relief in overall symptoms (including: itchy, sneezing, runny nose, and nasal congestion) compared with controls, but the same effect was not observed in the control group. Note 1

*Conclusion: For allergic rhinitis, honey combined with standard drug therapy may bring positive help to improve symptoms

  1. Honey is beneficial for stress damage

Hospital-acquired pressure injuries (also known as pressure ulcers or pressure sores) are injuries caused by pressure and shear forces on the skin, local areas of the underlying tissues. Occurs in 3% to 34% of hospitalized patients.

Ulcers significantly prolong a patient’s stay in the hospital and can lead to long-term disability, muscle and other deep tissue damage, and the cost of hospital-acquired stress injuries in the United States exceeds $260 billion per year.

One randomised controlled trial (of 99 critically ill children with pressure injuries) noted that the use of medicated honey dressings shortened wound healing time compared with standard care, and no one experienced allergic reactions or secondary bacterial infections. Note 1

*Conclusion: For the care of pressure injuries in hospitals, medicinal honey dressings may bring positive help

  1. Honey is beneficial for diabetic foot ulcers

Diabetic foot ulceration is a major complication of diabetes, with about 5% of people with diabetes suffering from foot ulcers (50% of all non-invasive amputations).

Peripheral neuropathy and vascular disease are thought to be major contributors to chronic foot ulcers, and current standard treatment for plantar ulcers includes restoring adequate vascular supply, debridement, treating infection, and reducing stress.

A systematic literature review and meta-analysis (including 7 randomized controlled trials and 1 quasi-experimental study in 756 patients with diabetic foot ulcers) pointed out that honey dressings effectively shortened wound debridement time, wound healing time, bacterial clearance time, and increased wound healing rate and bacterial clearance rate compared with the control group. Note 1

*Conclusion: For diabetic foot ulcers, honey dressings may help promote wound healing, but due to methodological shortcomings and potential biases, more studies are needed to further validate

  1. Honey is beneficial for upper respiratory tract infections (especially cough symptoms)

Upper respiratory tract infection, one of the most common infections, averages 6 to 10 colds a year in preschoolers.

Most symptoms are mild and include runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and cough. Other symptoms such as low-grade fever, sore throat, eye discharge, digestive discomfort, and general malaise may also occur.

A systematic literature review and meta-analysis (including 14 randomised controlled trials associated with acute upper respiratory tract infection) found that honey improved overall symptom scores, cough frequency, and cough severity compared with usual care. Note 1

*Conclusion: Honey can provide positive help for acute upper respiratory tract infections, especially in children’s cough frequency and cough severity.

  1. Honey is beneficial for mucositis caused by radiotherapy and chemotherapy

Oral mucositis, a common complication of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both in the head and neck, is characterized by oral erythema, ulcers, and pain, which affects the patient’s quality of life and nutritional status, leading to a prolonged hospital stay and increasing healthcare costs.

Prevention and treatment of mucositis involves many drugs and methods, including basic oral care protocols, anti-inflammatory drugs, biological response modulators, cytoprotectants, and cryotherapy.

A meta-analysis (19 relevant randomized controlled trials with 1276 patients) showed that honey significantly alleviated oral mucositis caused by radiochemotherapy during the prevention and treatment phases. Note 1

In the prophylactic phase, honey reduces the degree of mucositis, delays its progression, thereby increasing the patient’s willingness to continue chemoradiotherapy.

During the treatment phase, pain scores decreased significantly during the first month of treatment and at the end of treatment, resulting in a shorter hospital stay.

The mechanism behind it is related to the antibacterial effect of honey (achieved by hygroscopicity, dehydration and hydrogen peroxide production by glucose oxidase) and promoting wound healing.

*Conclusion: Honey therapy may be of positive help in the prevention or treatment of mucositis caused by chemoradiotherapy

  1. Honey is beneficial for tonsillectomy

Tonsillectomy is one of the common procedures in otolaryngology, and the main reasons for performing it are related to tonsil infection, airway obstruction caused by tonsil hyperplasia, and malignant tumors.

Tonsillectomy is generally considered a low-risk procedure, but possible complications include postoperative pain, dysphagia, dry throat, infection, bleeding, cervical spine complications, airway obstruction, nasopharyngeal obstruction, pulmonary edema, fever, jaw pain, earache, foreign body aspiration, poor healing, and zymophongeal insufficiency.

A meta-analysis (8 randomized controlled studies) suggested that oral honey had the effect of improving postoperative pain, analgesic use, night awakening, and tonsillectomy in children. Note 1

*Conclusion: Honey has a positive effect on the development of tonsillectomy, but due to the poor quality of the included studies, more large studies are needed to further verify

  1. Honey helps with memory function

As we age, memory and cognitive function will become poorer, these are normal phenomena, many elderly people find themselves forgetting things, they begin to worry about whether they have dementia, in fact, normal aging and dementia are very different.

Normal memory degradation is after reminders, and can be slowly recalled, while dementia memory decline is much more troublesome, even if reminded by others, can not remember, belongs to real forgetting.

In one study (16 weeks, 102 menopausal women), honey (20 grams per day) improved short-term memory (compared to the estrogen group).Note 1

In addition, animal experiments have also found that honey can improve the long short-term memory of laboratory mice in a stressful environment (by reducing oxidative stress, increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); and promote neuronal proliferation in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus).Note 2

  1. Honey is good for wound repair (burns)

Burns are defined as injuries to the skin or other tissues caused by heat, radiation, electricity, friction, or exposure to chemicals, and the severity varies according to the depth and extent of the wound.

After burns, the prevention of infection due to the loss of the surface barrier of the skin is an important issue, which can greatly reduce the associated medical costs, length of hospital stay, and loss of quality of life.

A meta-analysis (a meta-analysis of 10 studies with 717 first- and second-degree scalds) pointed out that honey dressings had a more significant effect on sterilizing wounds and promoting wound healing than the conventional burn topical ointment: Silver sulfadiazine. Note 1

*Conclusion: Compared with traditional burn ointments, the use of honey dressings has a more significant wound improvement effect, but due to the high heterogeneity of the included studies, more empirical confirmation is needed

  1. Honey is good for cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading killers of human life, with 86,<> people killed each year in the United States.

It is estimated that up to 8000 million people suffer from one form of cardiovascular disease (including hypertension, myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease, stroke, etc.), increasing from 60% of those under 40 years of age to 60% after the age of 70.Note 5

Since honey is rich in a variety of plant polyphenols and other antioxidants (quercetin, caffeic acid, locustin, kaempferol, galangin and vitamin C), these ingredients contribute to cardiovascular health.Note 6

For cardiovascular disease, the protective effects of plant antioxidants include antithrombotic, anti-ischemia, anti-oxidation, and vasodilation.Note 6

However, as of now, there are no long-term human studies that confirm that honey intake can prevent cardiovascular disease, so more empirical confirmation is needed.

  1. Honey is beneficial for blood lipid regulation (cholesterol and triglycerides)

A moderate amount of blood lipids is necessary to maintain physical functions, but modern people’s diet is full of high oil and sugar, coupled with lack of exercise, dyslipidemia is almost everyone’s reward.

Although excessive blood lipids do not seem painful, they will cause progressive damage to blood vessels and major organs in the long run, and increase the incidence of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension

A controlled study (including 55 overweight people) found that honey intake (30 g daily for 70 days) had lipid-lowering effects (compared to the control group with sucrose consumption), including total cholesterol (3% reduction), LDL bad cholesterol (5.8% reduction), and triglycerides (11% reduction). In addition, the subjects’ body mass index, BMI, body weight, and fasting blood sugar also decreased slightly.Note 7


What are the side effects of honey?

Honey is a very safe natural food for most people, and there are no side effects when consumed in moderation.

But it is worth noting that those who have been allergic to pollen and bee-related products (such as royal jelly, propolis) should avoid use, which may induce allergies, common allergic reactions are: tingling, shortness of breath, skin redness and swelling, voice changes, asthma etc.

Contraindications for using honey

1. Do not use immunocompromise, patients after chemotherapy, infants around 1 year old (if honey is contaminated with botulinum spores, it may cause poisoning).

2. May affect blood sugar, so diabetics, people taking blood sugar regulating drugs or related hypoglycemic health foods should consume with caution

3. It may have anticoagulant effect, so please take it with caution if you have coagulation dysfunction or take anticoagulants

4. Do not use honey of unknown origin or origin of Rhododendrons, which may cause poisoning (rhododendrons are cardiotoxic), and possible symptoms of poisoning include: dizziness, bradycardia, nausea, vomiting, presyncope, blurred vision, Hypotension etc. Note 1

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