Honey on a stick

Honey: Definition, Properties And Benefits

What is honey? What is it for? Find out about the properties and health benefits of it.

Honey on a stick
Honey: Definition, Properties and Benefits | iSTOCK

Honey has been collected and used as food for at least 5,000 years, as evidenced by a cave painting in Cuevas de la Araña in Valencia. But this product is not only a sweetener and an ingredient of recipes such as cakes or sauces, but it also has multiple healing properties.

In this article we will analyze the properties and benefits of honey  for the skin, the hair, our diet, and to look after out heath in general. For this, we will revise the information provided by the scientific community. 

What is honey?

Honey is produced by bees and other insects, generally from the nectar they feed on. These animals extract the nectar from flowers, such as rosemary, thyme, clover, eucalyptus, heather, ulmo, or chestnut.

The type that comes from flowers is the most popular type, but there is also the one called honeydew. It is also produced by bees, but its origin is not nectar but the secretions of insects that feed on sap, such as aphids or cochineal.

The main components are water, glucose, and fructose. It also contains calcium, iron, vitamins B, C, and D, and antioxidants, among other nutrients. 

Beekeepers obtain honey from honeycombs. Generally, they only take the excedent so as not to disturb the colonies of bees that have produced it and feed on it. Currently, China is the largest producer, accounting for almost 30% of world production.

The groups of bees repeatedly regurgitate the nectar they feed on, digesting it partially, and they store it in honeycombs. Then they beat their wings to evaporate part of the water, preventing it from fermenting. But, how long does honey last? It is actually a very long-lasting food that they will be able to consume in winter when it will be more difficult for them to access the flowers.

What is it for?

Apart from being a significant component to sweeten desserts, bread, tea, or mustard,  honey can have many more beneficial properties that you may not know about. If it is of good quality, it can improve our diet but also our health. This is the reason why, recently, they have incremented the use of it as a complement in medical treatments.

Various products, not only food, which are obtained from plants are called "honey" or in a similar way, such as agave honey or maguey and sugar molasses.

Mead is an alcoholic drink prepared from the fermented combination of honey and water. It was drunk by Mayans, Vikings, Celts, and Romans, among others, and it is considered the precedent of beer.

Benefits of honey

The effects of honey health benefits depend on the variety that is eaten. In the following lines, we describe these favorable properties for our organism.

1. For the face and skin

It is usually used to treat acne caused by bacteria as it has an antimicrobial effect. It alsohelps with dry skin and chapped lips. 

A honey and oatmeal mask can be made to exfoliate and cleanse the skin of the face. It is not recommended to wear the mask for more than 20 or 30 minutes as it can be complicated to remove once it has dried.

2. For the hair

Honey is frequently used to hydrate the hair and eliminate dandruff. It is also attributed to properties that reduce hair loss due to its moisturizing effects.

In scalp masks, it is usually combined with products such as milk, aloe vera, oats or lemon.

3. It favors weight loss

Including this food in our diet can be beneficial to regulate the corporal fats; this has positive effects on cholesterol. However, the slimming effect is limited to the intake of small quantities, and high levels could mean putting on weight.

In this sense, it is said that it is healthy to take a glass of water with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and honey fasting, as honey reduces "bad" cholesterol and cinnamon takes away hunger. Some people advice to eliminate refined sugar and replace it with this other sweetener, although in less quantity. 

4. It reduces cholesterol and blood pressure

There is some evidence that it reduces "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and increases "good" (HDL) cholesterol. It can also regulate blood pressure. However, other experts say the symptoms of heart disease can get worse if you eat a lot of honey.

5. It relieves intestinal problems and constipation

Tea with cinnamon and honey or honey and lemon juice are beneficial in the case of indigestion, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and dyspepsia, a disorder that causes gas, heartburn, nausea, and heaviness in the upper half of the stomach after meals.

It can also relieve constipation as among its healthy properties we can find a slight laxative effect

6. It could prevent cancer

Some studies suggest that Tualang and Manuka honey can help prevent breast, prostate, skin, or bladder cancer. This effect would be due to its angiogenic properties; this means that it stimulates the production of blood vessels, contributing to the regeneration of tissues. 

It has also been said that honey is  useful to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, such as mouth sores or esophagitis (inflammation of the lining of the esophagus caused by reflux of stomach fluid).

On the other hand, the American Cancer Society stated that it hasn't been shown conclusively that the products derived from bees are beneficial to prevent or treat cancer. 

7. It heals wounds and burns

Due to its antimicrobial properties, in the ancient world, it was already used to treat skin burns and diseases and intestinal wounds such as ulcers. Some studies with few subjects affirm that if it is applied on the skin, it helps to close wounds and has an antiseptic effect.

Honey from stingless species seems to have a greater antibiotic effect.  Among the different types, the regenerative properties of Manuka and Tualang honey stand out.

8. It could replace sugar in cases of diabetes

It has been suggested that people with diabetes may use honey as a sugar substitute because their glucose/fructose balance regulates blood sugar. Other sources point out that people with diabetes are only advised to take some to resolve episodes of hypoglycemia.

In any case, a diet with high amounts of this food would be unhealthy for people with diabetes as it would trigger their blood sugar levels due to its high fructose concentration.

9. Anti-inflammatory

According to scientific investigations some types of honey, such as Manuka and the one that is obtained from the Brazilian bee Melipona marginata, have anti-inflammatory properties. This means that they are useful to reduce swelling and therefore, pain.

10. Antioxidant

Honey has antioxidant properties, especially the Tualang one and the Tetragonula carbonaria bee, native from Australia.

In any case, while people need a minimum of antioxidants such as vitamin C in honey to be healthy, many researchers doubt that high levels actually have beneficial effects on the body.

11. It relieves eye problems

The benefits of honey also include the treatment of eye diseases such as glaucoma or cataract. In some occasions, honey teardrops are used to cure these problems. 

Among the types that seem to have these properties to a greater extent, we find the Melipona favosa and the Tetragonisca bees.

Precautions and contraindications

The beneficial properties reduce if it is taken at more than 60ºC because the vitamins and antioxidants it has, evaporate. 

Consuming honey or other sugars in large amounts increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat.  Excessive intake can also cause children and babies transient anxiety and insomnia.

According to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, science has not been able yet to provide conclusive evidence regarding the health benefits of honey, but neither has it been shown that it does not have any.