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"Confetti Skin, Beauty Within" is our blog about ichthyosis and its effect on our lives. Rachel and our three boys are affected with the form of ichthyosis called "icthyosis en confetti, type 2".

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Honey and Healing?

Let’s talk about honey! Honeycomb

There’s an awful lot of hype on the internet. Every day, I see an article or two posted by some well-meaning soul on Facebook, or sometimes a sidebar ad on a news article from someone trying to make a profit on the latest fad. Magic water. Coconut oil. Magic ear candles. Magic Tahitian fruit juice. Chelation therapy. Detox this and detox that. The list just goes on and on.

So what’s real? How can we tell what really works when even things that have real benefits get touted as the latest magic cure-all with all sorts of imagined benefits concocted by someone trying to sell us something?

First clue: Any website that starts off with “What doctors don’t want you to know!!” and a rant about BigPharma is probably not a good resource. Especially if whatever is on the page somehow cures cancer.

Second clue: “Sign up for our mailing list in order to get the magic cure!” Or better, “Buy our book!” And best yet, “It’s lemon juice! Only $96.99 a bottle!” Dude. Lemon juice is $4 at the grocery store. I can get a bag of lemons and squeeze them myself for much cheaper, too.

Sometimes, these claims are out and out snake oil. Other times, there’s a grain of truth that’s been magnified into a magic cure. And once in a while, whatever is being touted actually works.

So, which category does honey belong in? Read on to find out.

Honey has a very long history.Honey! Cave paintings from 6,000 years ago in Spain depict people collecting honeycombs from hives. It was actively cultivated at least as far back as the First Dynasty of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Even then, it was used in medicines and ointments as well as for sweetening food. And honey was known back then for its wound-healing properties.

A quick internet search tells me that honey is now supposed to be a wonder cure. According to random websites that are now selling honey — surprise, surprise! — eating it, smearing it on your skin, mixing it with apple cider or cranberry juice or cinnamon can do everything from make you live longer to cure diabetes and cancer. Whoa!

So how credible are those claims? You know those banner ads that tell you that doctors hate for you to know the magic weight loss secret they are selling? Or the ones that tell you that you can earn $15,000 a month from stuffing envelopes? The ones that prey on the gullible and desperate? Yeah….just, no.

But honey really does have wound-healing properties. There are a bunch of studies trying to figure out exactly how honey works. (Here are some links if you’re boredYes, I read them all.)

As I see it, scientists have found that honey has four effects when used on top of the skin:

  1. High osmolarity. There’s so much sugar in honey that it literally sucks all the water out of bacterial cells, making them shrivel up into little raisins.
  2. Suffocation. Again, honey is so thick that oxygen in the air doesn’t penetrate very well, so the bacteria don’t get enough oxygen to metabolize.
  3. Hydrogen peroxide. There’s an enzyme in honey that makes hydrogen peroxide, which, when exposed to bacterial cell walls, makes the bacteria pop like a squeezed  pimple.
  4. Low pH.  If you have, say, a skin bacteria that is used to functioning on skin at a just slightly basic pH of 7.6, slapping pH 4 or so honey on top of the skin slows down the ability of the bacteria to metabolize and reproduce. It’s like trying to function in the morning without coffee.

Bottom line, these studies are showing that honey kills bacteria and can reduce skin inflammation. And because of the way the honey is killing the bacteria (it’s not an antibiotic), it can be really helpful for people with antibiotic-resistant skin infections.

But pay attention — all of that beneficial stuff I just listed comes from using honey on top of the skin. It’s a different question altogether as to what honey might do for you when you eat it.

So for diabetes? Sugar is as sugar does. The glucose in honey is the same glucose you get from table sugar. The fructose in honey is the same fructose you get from fruit sugar. If you can’t control your sugar levels because insulin and glucagon are not released when sugar levels change, adding more sugar isn’t going to fix the problem. There are apparently some rodent studies that suggest that honey might have some impact on diabetes control, but that is NOT, and I repeat, NOT, the same thing as curing diabetes. Remember the claim, “doctors hate us for this secret”? Yeah. Doctors would be all over curing their patients if this had some real evidence behind it.

What about cancer? Same thing. No evidence in the literature outside of “maybe…” might be…” and “preliminary studies suggest that…” Basically, the best we have is that honey MIGHT help in when combined with radiation and chemotherapy. No study with an ounce of credibility suggests that replacing chemotherapy with honey is a viable therapy. (I’ll let you compare the claims of the “honey is the magic cure!!” websites to the actual scientific articles.)

And finally, living longer. Well. I guess you could try. How would you know if it worked? I guess you’ll find out in 40 years…

Taken orally, any effect honey might have on long life, cancer, joint health, headaches, allergies, or whatever other claim you might hear means that it has some mystical component that survives the entire digestive process AND has a receptor on the cells that you’re trying to heal with the mystical component AND that you ingest enough for it to make a difference. Anything less is a placebo effect. It’s mostly harmless if you want to try to live longer, but mistaking honey for a serious asthma treatment could shorten your life quite significantly! Not only that, but the watered down, pasteurized cheap honey bears in the grocery store are NOT the same thing as pure honey like you get from a local beekeeper. Even the medical studies only focus on one variety of honey, a type called Manuka from New Zealand.

WebMD does a nice job of summing up some of the other known effects of honey, such as using it as a cough syrup. For those of us with ichthyosis who are fighting regular MRSA infections, talk to your doctor before you try it (all that sugar might aggravate yeast or other things particular to you, and honey should never be given to babies under a year old because it can make them very sick), but slathering on a bit of honey might actually be a solution for some people.

Photo credits: HoneyHoneycomb

7 comments to Honey and Healing?

  • Cynthia

    We’ve used medihoney on Ox. It can sting sometimes but it will subside. We have noticed some nice improvements in the smaller wounds we have used it on.

    It can be messy because it’s honey, and it draws moisture from within the round out. We use it under mepilex products and those products generally contain the honey. You don’t need gobs of it, either.

  • Morgan

    I considered trying Manuka honey when we were living overseas and it was easily accessible. Brandyn was a baby at that stage and was having multiple MRSA infections. As a first time Mom, I went with the sure thing (antibiotics) because I was so scared about the infection going into his bloodstream. I would definitely consider it now that he is older. We have been fortunate and his infections occur less often and are managed with bactroban. I’m very curious though and I like that it’s a natural approach so I may try it. I’ll let you know!

  • Lauren

    I tried a honey / cinnamon mixture in Calvin’s face and wrists that had a rash recently but it was such a sticky mess and he just wanted to eat it so I’m not sure if it helped or not because I didn’t give it long enough. He’s only 2 so maybe I’ll try again once he’s older and isn’t licking his wrists 🙂

  • Rachel See

    Lauren, being able to eat your wound dressing might be a feature and not a bug. At least, that’s certainly what a 2-year-old would think, I think!

  • JermChu

    Hey guys,

    Loved meeting you at the conference and now Lila and I can’t wait until the next one. I am a kindred spirit with you when it comes to claims about products and wanting to know if they are actually true or not. There is a quote from someone (can’t remember who) that goes something like, “I want to believe in as many true things as possible and in as few false things.”

    It looks like you’re doing quite a good job of getting the facts straight and dividing out the claims that don’t have evidence to back them up or are outright false. Good job! I look forward to reading more of your blog posts. 😉

    As for the antibiotic properties of honey, I remember one comment from another blogger who made the point that even though honey does have antibacterial properties, most people would be better off just using a bandaid and disinfectant, which are typically readily available and a lot less sticky. For people with Ichthyosis, who may react to the glues in the bandaids, then honey might just be a viable alternative for this reason alone. That just goes to show you that it always depends on the situation.

  • Jim Bradshaw

    Tuesday, July 01, 2014


    First and foremost thank you very much for you wonderful website blog.

    I have learned a great deal more about my X linked Ichthyosis in the last 2 months, thanks to your blog, than I knew in spite of living with it for my 72 years. All I knew before was the name “Ichthyosis” and that only males got it and it was genetic from my Swedish mother. I was told that my sweat glands do not sweat. Yours and First Family’s web site has changed all that.

    I had a male cousin on my mother’s side (her sister’s son) who had a serve case of it. He never attempted to do anything to take care of his Ichthyosis. My case would probably be called moderate and I was able to keep it in check by daily treating it with a mixture of petroleum jelly and baby oil.

    The reason that I’m writing to you is that I accidently found something that has helped my dry skin from within. As stated earlier I’m 72 years old and I believe that I may have Dementia if not an early case of Alzheimers. Back in January 2014 I started to research on the web what if anything I could do to help my rapidly declining memory. A friend of mine suggested a Ted talk “Unconventional But Effective Therapy for Alzheimer’s Treatment”

    I followed the suggestion of Dr. Newport and started taking daily oral doses of coconut oil (10ml 3 times daily 4hrs. apart) for my loss of memory. And was I ever happily surprised that my mental conditions were reversed, just as her husbands’ were. The coconut oil with its MCT’s (whatever they are) was reversing me back to where I was mentally about 2 years ago. Further research indicated that coconut oil is effective in only 50% of Alzheimer’s cases &/or people who have what is now being called Type 3 Diabetes. (not enough energy going to the cells). I’m grateful that it appears that I’m one of those lucky people for whom it works. Not only is my memory better but more important to me is that I am now motivated to do and live life, rather than just walk around in a fog all day with my eyes open. I’m vibrant as I use to be. Not only are my mental capacity’s better but most of my other age related declines are much improved.

    I started taking the oral coconut oil at the beginning of March when it was still very cold and snowy in Chicago. Around the beginning of April I was again happily surprised to begin to notice that I was starting to sweat like it was the middle of a hot and steamy summer. I never expected this. My skin was clearing up. Is this for real? It appears so. Now that it is July my skin is better than it has ever been that I can remember. Almost close to normal except my lower legs and feet have a ways to go, to become clear of the Ichthyosis like the rest of my body is now.

    I was thinking of going to the First Family Conference in Indianapolis Indiana a few weeks ago, to tell my story and find out if I was the only one with this kind of success. Unfortunately I could not afford that kind of expense for someone living on a minimum amount of Social Security. Thus this contribution to your blog.

    I’m aware that in your article “Honey and Healing?” that you include coconut oil with all the other “snake oil” fakes as well as saying that it was the latest “fad” in your “The Trouble With Science” article. I have no finical interest in any coconut oil companies. I’m only interested in what is the experience of others with internal coconut oil in relationship to their Ichthyosis. I don’t think that internal coconut oil is a “cure all” for all types of Ichthyosis nor do I expect that my Ichthyosis will be completely gone but it sure has reduced and improved this old man’s skin conditions. Maybe internal coconut oil only helps older senior white men, who have Alzheimer’s, who have Type 3 Diabetes, and who have X linked Ichthyosis.

    I sure would like to know what you and others think.

    Thanking you in advance:

    I’m Jim Bradshaw

  • Jennifer See

    Hi, Jim! Thank you for writing! It was great to hear your story and that you found our blog helpful.

    When writing about “snake oil,” we are talking about how many sites attempt to scam people, claiming that things are a magic cure-all. Coconut oil may or may not help ichthyosis, and that remains up for experiment and debate, but two things are certain – it is a treatment, not a cure, and the sites that market coconut oil (or any other product) at a significant cost while claiming a cure are almost certainly a scam.

    I checked out some of my favorite claim evaluating sites and came up with these:

    Basically, they say that there’s no evidence that it works, but there’s no evidence that it doesn’t work, either. And it’s fairly harmless to try, so long you aren’t breaking the bank over it.

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