In the history of human food, one of the most enduring properties of our palates in nearly every culture a love of sweet stuff. For some reason, we are enamored with sugars and sweeteners of all kind. Most, as medical science has found, aren’t all that good for us. They can lead to high blood sugar, weight gain, and other negative health-related implications. But honey – a form of flower nectar produced by certain species of bees – is a rare exception to this rule of thumb. Read on as we detail the potential health benefits associated with honey, and how they might make your own health better.
Honey’s Bacteria Busting Properties
At some point, you’ve probably heard that honey is exceptional among foods because it virtually never goes bad. Though it crystallizes into a solid after a certain amount of time, those crystals can be melted back down into liquid form by placing the container in warm water. For a long time, the reason why this was so remained a mystery. In recent decades, however, scientists have begun to unlock the mysterious reasons why honey never seems to spoil.
In short, there are three different reasons why honey so consistently repels bacteria and fungi. First and foremost, the two sugars (fructose and glucose) that form it have a property called “low water activity”. In layman’s terms, this means that most of the water molecules in honey are attached firmly to its sugar molecules. This, in effect, leaves little room for bacteria and mold to grow on those water molecules. The second property, as odd as it sounds, is a chemical reaction within honey that produces hydrogen peroxide.
The honey must be diluted to allow the reaction to occur – which happens when it’s applied topically to wounds. For this reason, honey has been used in years past as a wound dressing when conventional antibiotics aren’t available. The third and final reason for honey’s resistance to microbial invaders is its pH. On the pH scale, honey typically falls between 3.2 and 4.5. If it’s been awhile since your last science class, this simply means that honey is pretty acidic – which is far from conducive to bacterial growth.
Honey for Cold Relief
One of the oldest applications of honey as a health-booster is the treatment of sore throats and coughs. Old wives’ tales about honey’s soothing properties for those with upper respiratory infections abound across many cultures. And, as it turns out, those beliefs have been confirmed by medical science. In a study performed at Penn State University, it was found that honey does actually relieve cough, sore throat, and other cold symptoms.
In the study, children were given honey, a medication with honey flavoring, and no treatment at all. On the scale that those researchers used, the kids who were treated with natural honey demonstrated the biggest improvement in symptoms, beating even the honey-flavored medication.
There is a caveat, however, to treating young children with a dose of honey for their colds. The medical community recommends that children under two shouldn’t consume honey, as it sometimes contains dormant botulism spores. These pose virtually no threat to adults with healthy immune systems, but can compromise the developing immune systems of infants and young toddlers.
Honey Fights High Cholesterol and Regulates Blood Sugar Better Than Other Sweeteners
In addition to the upper respiratory health benefits that honey provides, there is solid evidence that supports honey’s cholesterol fighting capabilities. One study, which involved 26 patients, compared natural honey to granulated sugar and artificial honey as sweeteners. Those who sweetened their food with artificial honey and granulated sugar over a period of fifteen days were found to have higher levels of LDL, or so-called “bad cholesterol” at the end of the trial.
Those who used natural honey, meanwhile, saw their LDL levels drop by as much as 11% over the two-week period. This is quite impressive considering the short time frame of the study. So, if you’re working towards lowering your cholesterol, a spoonful of honey might just be an effective tool in battling LDL levels.
In the same study, people with type 2 diabetes were directed to use natural honey instead of the granulated sugar or artificial honey alternatives. Those who ate it experienced lower rises in blood sugar after consumption than either alternative. Scientists suspect that the reason for this finding has to do with honey’s makeup. It has roughly 50% fructose and 50% sucrose, which may assist our insulin-response system to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood.
Honey is Packed With Antioxidants
If you’ve read any medical news in the past few years, you’ve probably at least heard of the powerful, health improving qualities of antioxidants. These substances, found often in fruits and present in honey, are believed to be highly effective cancer fighters. Their moniker is derived from what they do in the body – which is preventing a reaction called oxidation from occurring in the cells.
Without going in to too much detail, this oxidation reaction is a leading cause of cell death and damage, which in turn can lead to the development of certain cancers. Research done at the University of California has proven that honey’s antioxidants are used by our bodies when consumed. The study gave several tablespoons to 25 subjects for about a month, and measured levels of antioxidant levels in the blood both before and after the trial. What they found was that blood-antioxidant levels were higher after the period of regular honey consumption.
All told, it’s pretty amazing to see all the health benefits of honey laid out – especially when you take into account its simplicity. It’s hard to determine just how one early human was able to penetrate a beehive and scrape out some of the golden, sweet liquid – but the fact that he or she accomplished it has turned out to be a saving grace for many. From wound treatments to cholesterol and blood sugar control, honey is something of a cure-all for a host of medical issues. What’s more, new and exciting uses for this tasty, viscous substance are continually being discovered.