Bees give us a superfood that is also an ancient and rediscovered natural remedy for many health problems caused by infections, viruses, fungi and even cancer: Let’s get to know the properties of honey.
Honey is produced by European bees (Apis mellifera). It is the result of the transformation of the secretions of flowers (nectar) and of some insects (honeydew) by addition of enzymes of their own and by evaporation of the water by means of ventilation and temperature control inside the hive. This procedure contains all the precious properties of honey.
The color of honey varies from pale yellow to dark red to black depending on the vegetable source. The tendency to the formation of granules (crystallization) is the characteristic of honey that differentiates it from other sweeteners. All these characteristics are influenced by temperature, while the pH of honey indicates its purity or harshness and depends on the geographical area from which it comes. Moisture is the most important characteristic to determine the solidity of honey and generally varies from 13% to 20%. The viscosity of honey depends on its moisture content and temperature. In addition to all these properties, honey is resistant to deterioration due to its high sucrose content. Therefore, it has been used as a preservative for other food substances.
In order to maintain all its properties unaltered, honey must be offered exactly as bees have produced it. By centrifugation, the beekeeper extracts the honey that the bees have stored in the cells of the combs. The honey is then left to settle in special containers and then put into jars. These are the only processes that allow you to keep all the characteristics of honey intact.
The composition of honey
Honey is a precious food, easily digestible. It is a complex mixture of many organic and inorganic compounds such as sugars, proteins, organic acids, pigments, minerals and many other elements. It is mainly composed of carbohydrates (80-85%) and water (15-17%).
Carbohydrates are characterized mainly by simple sugars (mainly fructose and glucose), as well as by monosaccharides, sucrose, disaccharides and oligosaccharides which are an excellent source of energy for the body.
Honey also contains precious minerals (phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, potassium, chloride, sodium and sulfur), trace elements (iron, copper, zinc, fluoride, manganese, silicon and iodide) and various substances that exert a beneficial action on the body such as small amounts of vitamins (B2, B3, B5, B6, C and K), amino acids and enzymes.
Enzymes added by bees include diastase (amylase), which digests starch in maltose and is relatively stable to heat and storage, and invertase (saccharase or α-glucosidase), which catalyzes the conversion of sucrose to glucose and fructose. Invertase also catalyses many other sugar conversions and is primarily responsible for the honey sugar patterns. Glucose oxidase and catalase are two other enzymes added by honey bees, which regulate the production of hydrogen peroxide, one of the antibacterial factors of honey.
The beneficial properties of honey
The use of honey as a therapeutic agent is as old as human civilization itself. Before the appearance of current drugs, honey was used conventionally for the treatment of many diseases. The first written records on papyrus and Sumerian clay tablets clearly show that honey was used as a medicine before the years 1900-1250 BC from the Egyptians. The scientist and philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) spoke of honey as a good eye cream and painful wounds, while Dioscorides (50 AD) described honey as good for all rotten and empty ulcers, sunburn (spots on the face), cough and inflammation of the throat and tonsils. The ancient Greeks used honey to treat fatigue. Their athletes used a mixture of honey and water before important sporting events. Ancient Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians and Romanians also used honey to treat their wounds and intestinal infections.
Today, modern research has demonstrated the medicinal importance of honey. It has broad spectrum antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. Honey prevents and kills microbes through various mechanisms such as low pH and enzymatic activities. Potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities of honey have been reported. Honey is not only significant as an anti-inflammatory drug, but acts as a hepatoprotective (protects the liver) from the degenerative effects of synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs. Similarly it is able to inhibit bacterial resistance against antibiotics.
Thanks to the limited concentration of water, the high presence of sugars and the special substances added by bees, honey becomes a food in which neither bacteria nor molds and even yeasts do not thrive. This is due to its osmotic concentration, inhibin and acidity. This characteristic gives it antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Honey contains antibiotic-like substances and inherits, albeit minimally, the phytotherapeutic activities of the plant from which the nectar originates. It has a strong antibiotic effect against all known forms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in case of skin infections and wounds. Added to this are the following active properties:
Honey exerts its benefits in the following organs:
- First respiratory tract: decongestant, soothing cough.
- Muscles: increased physical power and endurance.
- Heart: cardiotropic action.
- Liver: protective and detoxifying action.
- Digestive system: protective, stimulating, regulating action.
- Kidneys: diuretic action.
- Blood: antianemic action.
- Bones: fixation of calcium and magnesium.
- Reproductive system: improves serum testosterone concentration, sperm count and fertility.
The main properties of honey
The resistance of microbes to modern antimicrobial drugs is a serious problem. Scientists are trying to overcome this problem by developing such drugs to which microbes do not have or have limited resistance. The drug should also have broad spectrum activities. Recently, some scientists have reported that honey plays a fundamental role in the development of modern medicine. The nutritional quality of honey is highly effective and shows potential properties against reactive oxygen species (ROS), inflammation, infectious agents such as bacteria and fungi, as well as features for cough reduction and wound care.
The antimicrobial activity of honey was first detected in 1982. Subsequently an extensive work was carried out on a large number of honey varieties, which showed and confirmed its antimicrobial activity. One of the best known varieties of honey is that of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), which exhibits an inhibitory effect against 60 bacterial species. These species include both bacteria with aerobic and anaerobic activity, as well as Gram-positive and Gram-negative ones. Other research has highlighted the broad spectrum activity against enteric bacteria. It has also been shown to be used effectively to alleviate different types of wounds.
The antibacterial mechanism of honey has not yet been completely understood. However, many researchers have suggested that honey inhibits bacterial growth due to several factors. High concentration of sugar, low pH, generation of hydrogen peroxide, protein compounds, phenolic compounds or other unidentified components present in honey provide antimicrobial activity. Higher sugar concentrations provide honey osmolarity, which is a known antimicrobial factor in honey. The low moisture content of honey hinders the growth of almost all micro-organisms except for certain yeasts and osmophilic bacteria. Some studies have highlighted the antimicrobial activities of honey in relation to enzymes, proteins and hydrogen peroxide. Furthermore, it was discovered that the synergistic effect of honey and propolis inhibits the antimicrobial activity of single and mixed microbial culture.
Numerous studies suggest that some varieties of honey have strong activity against some viruses. In 1996, Zeina suggests that honey plays an effective role against the rubella virus. A similar study on royal jelly suggested strong antiviral activity against the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The antiviral activity of royal jelly is greater than honey.
The mechanism of antiviral activity of royal jelly has been attributed to the impact of 10-HAD. This fatty acid stimulates white blood cells (WBCs), causing leucocyte adhesion to viruses such as HSV and hepatitis, leading to their destruction. Pure clover and Manuka honey have anti-varicella zoster (VZV) activity. Research conducted at the University of Waikato also described the antiviral activity of honey against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Many species of fungi are more pathogenic than bacteria. Candida is among the most pathogenic and opportunistic species of saprophytic fungi. Cases of Candida infection increase day by day. Increased use of antifungal agents has led to the development of resistance to synthetic drugs currently available. New classes of antifungal compounds need to be discovered to treat fungal infections. Natural products have traditionally been used in the treatment of diseases, since they consist of many active compounds. Honey is one of these products. Honey can have a large variance in therapeutic components depending on its origin. The floral source of honey plays an important role in its biological properties. It has been shown that some varieties of honey have antifungal activity against some species of yeast, including Candida.
The antifungal activity of honey is due to many characteristics. Recently it has been shown that different plant extracts combined with honey synergize the antifungal properties of honey. This will help in the future to use honey in combination with many other natural products for the treatment of fungal diseases.
Several studies have indicated that honey can be used as a natural medicine for the treatment of cancer. Honey has shown an antiproliferative effect in cancer cells. Honey has phenyl esters of caffeic acid (CAPE) that stop cell growth in one of the phases of the cancer cell cycle and induce cellular apoptosis (self-destruction). The antitumor effect of honey depends mainly on the time of application. It is likely that the polyphenolic components present in honey stimulate the anticancer defense system.
Honey has significant evacuation activities of reactive oxygen species (ROS). This effect could be due to the phenolic content and the effect of the lipid metabolism of honey. This is a beneficial effect of honey, which has the ability to counteract oxidative damage and protect liver and kidney tissues.
Honey in the cure of many other problems
Honey has protective and therapeutic effects on liver disorders. It can prevent liver damage due to obstruction of the bile duct. It has a protective role against some drug-mediated hepatotoxicity. Traditionally, honey has been used for the treatment of cough in both children and adults. Therefore honey is used as a key ingredient in many cough syrups. Honey has reduced cardiovascular risk factors and has many effects on various metabolic factors. It provides a defensive effect on lead-induced blood and toxic effects on kidney and liver function. Honey also has therapeutic effects on hay fever and diabetes mellitus. It is also used to treat cardiovascular disorders and high levels of high density lipids in the blood. It is a good aperitif and is used to treat disorders related to the digestive tract. Honey is also used against alcohol abuse, constipation (a laxative agent) and certain types of allergies.
The properties indicated in this document are characteristics that can only be found in pure honey, free from any human manipulation. It is the custom of many foreign producers, in particular from the countries of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, to dilute their products with syrups and honeydew based on crystalline sugar. These types of honey, also present on the shelves of our supermarkets, are not effective and their sugar content could seriously affect your health.
It is recommended to buy only genuine honey from local craft production.
- Herbal Antibiotics, Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Storey Publishing LLC.
- Honey: Single food stuff comprises many drugs, Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, Volume 25, Issue 2, on ScienceDirect.com.
Images by: fancycrave1 from Pixabay, Capri23auto from Pixabay, PollyDot from Pixabay, Colin Behrens from Pixabay CDC/ Dr. Erskine Palmer and Dr. Horst Neve, Max Rubner-Institut [CC BY-SA 3.0 de] via Wikimedia Commons