Honey has been used for thousands of years as both a food and as medicine. Beekeeping dates to at least 700 BC, and was regarded by the ancients as sacred. Honey has a history of use in religious ceremonies, as an ingredient in the embalming of the dead, and as a medicinal substance. Cooking with honey was only for the wealthy as it was quite an expensive ingredient.
Then refined sugar appeared on the scene, made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Honey as a sweetening agent was displaced by this non-nutritious but relatively cheap sweetener, and most of the focus on honey since that time has been on its healthful/medicinal qualities.
The wound healing abilities of honey may be its most promising medicinal quality. For centuries man has used honey as a topical antiseptic agent in the treatment of burns and wounds. A variety of studies have compared the wound healing abilities of honey to silver sulfadiazine cream, standard treatment for burns. In a 2011 study published in the The ScientificWorld Journal, 104 first-degree burn patients were treated for one week with either honey or silver sulfadiazine; after one week, 91 percent of honey treated burns were infection free compared with only 7 percent receiving the conventional treatment. Another study looked at the wound healing benefits of topical honey applied to patients following Caesarean section and hysterectomy. Compared to the group receiving the standard solution of iodine and alcohol, the honey treated group was infection free in fewer days, healed more cleanly and spent fewer days in the hospital.
Why does honey have such a positive effect on wound healing? Honey is mostly made up of glucose and fructose, two sugars which strongly attract water; the honey absorbs water from the wound, drying it out so as to create a more inhospitable environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi (both of which prefer a moist environment). Too, raw honey contains an enzyme known as glucose oxidase which produces hydrogen peroxide (a mild antiseptic) when combined with water.
Honey also contains antioxidants and flavonoids with can function as antibacterial agents. Honey even has its own unique antioxidant known as pinocembrin, which has antibacterial properties. In a lab study of raw honey, the majority of samples had antibacterial properties which inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria found readily in our environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. Darker honey, specifically honey from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other hone; raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health-supportive substances.
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