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