The use of natural raw honey as food and medicine by humankind has been in existence since before recorded time. It is our most ancient sweetener and has been used around the world for millions of years. It is a whole and complete food. It is useful for all parts of the body. For the organs internally, it is highly assimilable and travels far in the body, bringing its healthful benefits to the far reaches of the body. It is also invaluable for our bodies largest organ, the skin.
While honey is essentially a liquid solution of sugars, the composition of these sugar varies widely. Honey is composed largely of two monosaccharides, fructose and glucose. The high concentration of fructose is largely the reason that honey has very different effects on the body than that of other simple carbohydrates. Your liver must convert the fructose into glucose prior to entering the bloodstream, and thereby this act regulates and extends the release of glucose into the body. The liver requires sugar in the form of glucose to do this work and unlike other fructose-rich foods, the glucose is present in honey and prevents organ stress from occurring (unlike agave nectar, a genetically modified product). Aside from monosaccharides, honey also contains disaccharides and trisaccharides, and larger oligosaccharides. These complex sugars are slower to be digested and contribute to the bodies’ sustained energy requirements. Interestingly, honey has been shown to decrease blood glucose levels in people suffering hyperglycaemia such as diabetics. As well, the oligosaccharides that exist in honey provide necessary food for beneficial bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut lining.
Honey contains minerals. These minerals in this dissolved state are highly absorbable. Up to ½ of 1% of honey is pure minerals. These include significant amounts of Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iron, Manganese, and Zinc. Animals fed honey as part of studies confirmed increase in bone density and mineralization likely due to the highly available source of Calcium.
Honey also contains vitamins, including significant amounts of Thiamin B1, Riboflavin B2, Niacin B3, Pantothenic Acid B5, Pyridoxine B6, Folic Acid B9, Ascorbic Acid C, and Phyllochinon K. As a source of nutrition honey is anything but ‘just sugar’; for an adult to receive nutrients needed to meet the human bodies health requirements, one would only have to consume 70-95 g of honey daily.
Honey contains antioxidants. These antioxidant polyphenols, in the form of flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids, inhibit substances (free radicals and reactive oxygen species) from causing cellular dysfunction, pathogenesis of metabolic processes, cardiovascular diseases, as well as aging. The floral source is the largest factor determining the antioxidant properties of a honey, and thus the conditions within which the plants exist, influence the production of antioxidants as well. Total dissolved solids is also highly positively correlated with antioxidant content, i.e. the darker the honey, the more likely it is to have high antioxidant content. Again, it is important to understand that honey is a liquid solution containing dissolved antioxidants, more akin to a tincture than a food where these compounds are still locked up in a matrix of proteins and carbohydrates. The bioavailability of the polyphenols in honey means that consumption of honey results in higher levels of antioxidants in your plasma (blood) rapidly and easily.
Honey contains enzymes. This means that honey is a living food. Many of the enzymes in honey are gently denatured when the honey is curing. As honeybees reduce the moisture content of honey in the hive, the pH of the honey goes down, it becomes more acidic. Eventually the honey becomes so acidic that enzymes can no longer stay in conformation and they become inactive. However, with proper handling they are not destroyed and simply sit awaiting reactivation. When honey mixes with another liquid, like saliva or the moisture in your skin, the pH rises and these enzymes come back to life. The one of the most abundant and perhaps one of the most important enzymes in honey is known as glucose oxidase. When reactivated it consumes glucose sugars producing hydrogen peroxide. This dissolved hydrogen peroxide is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body oxygenating tissues. Glucose oxidase is responsible for the majority of the antimicrobial activity of honey. However, it is only part of why honey is invaluable in healing infections and skin conditions susceptible to infection (see below).
These enzymes also help the human gut to digest other foods such as carbohydrates including starch. Indeed, this is why honey is so asimilable, it is essentially pre-digested food ready for absorption into the body. The trace minerals and vitamins in honey play a role in aiding the digestion of the sugars present in honey. Together these constituents can be considered prebiotics. Consumption of foods rich in prebiotics is known to support an increase in the beneficial bacteria living in one’s gut and thus aid uptake of other foods. Science has also studied honey on humans and animals and shown interesting measurable effects including improved memory and spatial memory in young and old. Some studies have shown its effects in staving off cognitive memory decline associated with aging.
Honey is shown through scientific experimentation to be effective at killing both gram negative and gram positive bacteria including most all the heavy hitters such as, Bacillus anthracis, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Haemophilus influenza, Staphylococcus aureus, and all the Streptococcus spp., Salmonella spp., Rubella virus and so many more relevant to modern medicine (like all the ones currently becoming resistant to antibiotics). The relationship between honey and blood is very complex and involved. For sometime it has been known that honey helps in a variety of blood conditions. It is known to elevate red blood cell count in people suffering anaemia. Furthermore, it is known to elevate haematology and immune response, with higher lymphocyte count and increased phagocytosis. Indeed, honey is known to provide haematoprotection by providing a variety of water soluble components that actively protect the blood. ‘A little honey in the heart’ is a sweet saying but it is now understood that honey is shown to ease stress on the heart through its anti-inflammatory action and its effect on the blood, decreasing stress of the heart leading to maladies of the heart. I think it helps with heartache too.
In the mouth honey is shown to increase beneficial bacteria and reduce the incidence of dental caries, plaque, gingivitis and periodontics. In the stomach, intestines, and the liver, honey is shown to ease tissues by stimulating nerve cells in the gastrointestinal tract as well as acting as a consistent source of antioxidants in the face of cellular stress. While putting honey in your eye can cause a small amount of stinging, reddening, and soreness, it is known to be an effective cure of most eye conditions including conjunctivitis and keratitis. It is both antibacterial as well as anti-inflammatory in its action, soothing soreness and killing disease-causing organisms.
Honey has a long history of use in aiding the skin. It is useful as an emollient in softening and moisturizing the skin. Its humectant qualities allow it to literally draw moisture from the air into the tissue in contact. While good for the skin this humectant quality translates into a very strong osmotic potential in the world of cellular organisms. In contact with cells, it will initially suck moisture out of the cells in contact. Single celled organisms cannot tolerate this level of osmotic shock and are literally sucked dry, dead. Your skin can accommodate the honey and then with extended contact the honey will give back more than it took by absorbing additional moisture from the atmosphere. Relevant to honeys wound healing properties, it is shown that honey actually modulates the immune system of the skin, playing a role in how wounds heal when in contact with honey. It actually changes the way the body form scabs and at what rate you scab with regards to the cellular reconstruction of your skin tissues, minimizing scarring and increasing the rate of blood flow to wound sites. Not only does it clear infections, it sterilizes the tissues eliminating the spread of bacteria. It is anti-inflammatory, so it helps to create conditions conducive to healing damaged tissue. It is the most superior wound dressing in the natural world.