Monday, May 24, 2010

Honey for Health

I have already talked about honey as a sweetener in my post Sweet 'N' Lowdown so I'm going to focus on the health benefits of honey in this post. Honey can speed wound healing, act as a cough medicine, relieve diarrhea and constipation, and even treat ulcers.

Honey was commonly used to treat skin wounds up until World War II when antibiotics started to be more widely used. Now, honey is being used once again in mainstream medicine—to help fight skin infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The sugar in honey helps absorb moisture which bacteria need to survive; honey contains varying amounts of hydrogen peroxide; finally, raw honey contains propolis which kills bacteria.

Honey is an effective cough suppressant. Research has shown it to be more effective at relieving cough than dextromethorphan ("DM") and also improved sleep quality better than diphenhydramine (Benedryl). I would dose a two year old with ½ teaspoon and a child over 6 with 1 teaspoon.

Honey is very useful in the treatment of diarrhea & constipation. Mixed with water, honey becomes an electrolyte replacement with the added benefit of having antimicrobial properties that can kill off the microbes in the digestive tract that may be causing the problem. Honey can be helpful with constipation because it contains large amounts of fructose that sometimes arrives undigested in the large intestine. This undigested fructose draws water into the colon acting as a laxative.

A specific type of honey called Manuka, made by bees feeding on a flowering shrub from New Zealand, has been found effective at killing Helicobacter pylori—a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. To be effective, this honey must be taken raw.

A folk remedy recommends eating local raw honey to help treat allergies and hayfever—the idea being that the honey will contain small amounts of local pollens and may work similar to an allergy shot to reduce symptoms. Unfortunately, there is little research on this topic and the research there is doesn't show honey to be any more effective than placebo. A rare but serious possible side effect is anaphylaxis if the honey contains enough of a pollen you are particularly allergic to.

A word of caution: because honey may contain trace amounts of Clostridium botulinum—the bacteria that causes botulism—honey should never be given to infants under 1 year of age.

So, you may want to start using your honey for more than just sweetening your tea! My personal favorite use for honey is to make beer—my favorite homebrew, Rocky Raccoon's Crystal Honey Lager—is made with honey in addition to the malt. I've got to say, it's a particularly refreshing way to take your honey!

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