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Health from the Hive
Foods that have proven medicinal benefits, such as honey, are known as “nutraceuticals,” “functional” or medical foods. Though they now are the focus of research studies, such foods are age-old healers. My grandmother poured out honey to us all as her “spoonful of sunshine,” teaching us to treat it as a golden gift from the bees. She didn’t know it, but it was her nutraceutical. There is a seemingly unending book of praise attesting to the medicinal benefits of our honey and it is added to daily; people tell us not only of specific ailments cured, but often of a more general lifting of fatigue and lethargy to be replaced by a resurgence of energy and a “get up and go” that was previously absent from their lives.
Millions of honey-loving foodies are often surprised to find that honey heals, but for thousands of years mankind has understood that eating as well—as naturally—as possible was the best way to fight infection. Hippocrates (c. 460–c. 375 BCE), the father of modern medicine and founder of medical ethics, knew the connection between food and good health back in the fourth century BCE. “Let food be your medicine,” he said, “and medicine be your food.”
Hippocrates believed in honey as the great golden healer—he used it medicinally and prescribed it for his patients, writing that, “honey causes heat, cleans sores and ulcers, softens hard ulcers of the lips and heals running sores.” It was used successfully in this way for hundreds of years. But after Sir Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) discovered the antibiotic penicillin by chance in 1928, the well-adopted use of honey in surgery and medicine began to take a back seat. Medical science preferred to think that traditional medicine, such as beehive remedies, was no longer appropriate for a modern society. But in recent years, the growth in drug-resistant infections, or “superbugs,” such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), has encouraged a change in perception. Ancient beehive “superdrugs” may be the answer—in many hospitals raw antibacterial honey is used to treat infections that no modern drug can knock back and to encourage new healthy tissue to develop in dramatic style. Honey now comes to the rescue for everything from abscesses and fungal infections to non-healing wounds following surgery. Honey contains over 180 properties—a balance not available in any other food.
It is truly remarkable when high antibacterial honey is placed on wounds oozing pus or when honey is gently smeared on burns instead of the prescribed ointment silver sulfadiazine. Clinical results have shown the greater effectiveness of honey and in a shorter healing time too. The latter clearly demonstrates the property of regeneration of skin and tissues by honey—far ahead of many pharmaceuticals in use. Honey stops cross infection in its tracks too and stops further contamination moving onto other wounds. There is no doubt that many of the medicinal, antibacterial and healing properties of honey still baffle modern scientists, but honey’s true worth and performance against infected surgical wounds and skin infections works when everything else has failed. Research by Dr. Shona Blair at Sydney University in 2007 concluded that honey dressings should be used as a “first choice” and not as a “last resort,” but she added that the type of honey was important, as some honeys have up to 100 times more antibacterial properties than others.
Are we not all bombarded by endless television commercials with sylphlike healthy women devouring probiotic yogurts that have changed their lives? The message is one of “friendly bacteria” or probiotics wrapped up in a daily pot of yogurt. In fact, the more “friendly bacteria” in your digestive system, like Bifi dobacteria and Lactobacilli, the greater the resistance your body will have to fight pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. Perhaps this is why honey has such admired therapeutic qualities—that leave us fit and well feeling. It could be due in part to friendly bacteria. In January 2008, two PhD researchers at the University of Lund, Sweden, Dr. Tobias Olofsson and Dr. Alejandra Vasquez, presented their findings to the 2008 First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health, and showed that different types of honey possess large amounts of friendly bacteria.
There is no doubt that bees are highly selective in the nectar they seek from an abundance of flowers and, if they are given a choice, will automatically sniff out those flowers reputed for high-value nutritional and antibacterial nectar. Bees enforce a choice on themselves for the benefit of the beehive first—and for our benefit as a bonus. That both friendly bacteria Bifi dobacteria and Lactobacillus have been found in honey is not only a bonus for our digestive and immune systems, but is further beneficial in that friendly bacteria can live off honey in our gut, as a prebiotic, at the same time. Honey’s role as a preventative as well as a cure is also now receiving increasing credence and attention in medical and research institutions. As well as treating superbug wound infections, beehive drugs are at the vanguard of natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral treatments for cold sores, periodontal disease in the mouth, infected leg ulcers, psoriasis, eczema, conjunctivitis and aching arthritic joints.
Used with permission from “Honey: Nature’s Golden Healer” by Gloria Havenhand (Firefly Books, 2011, $19.95 paperback) See: www.fireflybooks.com