Honey has fascinated humans for thousands of years. The process of creating honey is incredible and its benefits have been known, or at least supposed, since the beginning of time.
Here, we are going to list all of the known benefits of honey, so that you can understand why, at Fourmi Bionique, we make full use of this ingredient, which we are fortunate to have readily available to us in Quebec.
No time to read the whole article? Here are the health benefits of honey:
- Regulates blood sugar
- Reduces metabolic stress
- Helps sleep quality
- Treats constipation
- Improves brain function
- Acne and dermatitis
- Heals cuts, burns, and sores
- Moisturizes skin
- Repairs lips
- Helps the menstrual cycle
- Boosts the immune system
Honey: A Miracle of Nature
To understand where honey’s benefits come from, it helps to know how it is made.
Honey is, in fact, food for bees, which comes from the flower nectar that bees harvest all day. By doing this, bees perform a job that is incredibly important in the natural world: pollinating flowers.
When they are full of the juice that they’ve sucked out of a multitude of different flowers, the bees return to the hive. They pass the liquid between the mouths of other worker bees, and then the liquid is masticated for about a half hour, until the liquid’s moisture content has gone from about 70% to about 20%. The liquid is passed to another bee once again until it becomes honey, at which point it is put into honeycomb.
At this point, the honey is still a bit too liquid, so to make it more viscous, the bees will fan the honey by beating their wings. Once the honey has the right consistency, the bees seal the honeycomb with a wax cap to conserve it properly.
It takes 8 bees to produce a teaspoon of honey in a day. Happily, though, bees make more honey than they need to feed themselves. Beekeepers know that they need to leave their bees enough honey to feed themselves through the winter.
Not all honey is created equal!
To take advantage of all of honey’s benefits, whether for topical use or for eating, the quality is very important. Sourcing your honey carefully is essential.
Choose natural honey
Natural honey is, of course, pure – that is, it hasn’t been mixed with sugar or any other sweeteners, and it hasn’t been pasteurized. When honey is pasteurized, it is heated above 43°C or 110°F, which destroys most of the enzymes, antioxidants and other beneficial properties, such as its antibiotic capabilities.
Sourcing honey locally
Another way to be sure that you have a quality product is to choose a local honey, avoiding honey that has come from other countries or which has been blended with honey from countries that may not be as strict about additives.
In addition to being an argument in favour of supporting local food producers and ecology, this precaution will allow you to avoid fraud and hidden adulteration of honey, as well as ensuring that the producer you’re buying from respects North American norms.
The advantages and properties of natural honey
As mentioned above, honey contains many precious properties.
Honey contains minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus and potassium. It also contains half of all existing amino acids, organic acids such as acetic acid and citric acid, and many B vitamins as well as vitamins C, D and E. Honey also contains a variety of antioxidants (flavonoids and phenols).
Honey’s health benefits
Honey is a food that can be used in many other ways to improve health. Dr. Ron Fessenden, a retired doctor who is the president of the Committee for the Promotion of Honey and Health (a non-profit organization), is an expert on the physiological benefits of honey.
He explains many of honey’s healthy properties, including the regulation of blood sugar, the reduction of metabolic stress and honey’s ability to regulate sleep.
1. Regulates blood sugar
It seems counterintuitive that honey could regulate blood sugar. The secret of its ability to do so comes from its balance between fructose and glucose. If, as something sweet is eaten, the portion of fructose allows the glucose to be absorbed by the liver to form glycogen, which is then available for the brain, the heart, the kidneys and red blood cells to use. This improves organ function and essential tissue function by eliminating glucose from the bloodstream, lowering blood sugar. Studies have shown that honey barely increases the amount of sugar in the blood or insulin, because it produces more glycogen per gram of honey than any other food does.
2. Eating honey reduces stress
Any stress, whether it is emotional, psychological or physiological, is processed in the same way by the body. One of the functions of the adrenal gland is to produce adrenaline and cortisol, which stimulate the breakdown of muscle proteins into amino acids to produce new sugars. This occurs when the brain thinks it might lack fuel, such as during exercise or while sleeping at night. Natural honey produces glycogen in the liver, which is the energy reserve the brain needs for normal functioning. We will have enough of a glycogen reserve if we eat natural honey at breakfast, before going to bed, and regularly throughout the day (especially before and after exercise); these reserves of liver glycogen, combined with the antioxidants and minerals (potassium, calcium and manganese) contained in honey will prevent stress hormones from acting.
3. Natural honey helps sleep quality
If we eat honey before going to bed, we store glycogen in the liver, which will send it through the bloodstream when the brain needs it, which will stop it from going into a panic when it detects a low level of glycogen. Eating natural honey also stimulates nighttime relaxation and sleep. The natural sugar present in honey produces a small amount of insulin, which allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, leading to the secretion of melatonin, a hormone which is vital for the daily regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. This is why it is strongly recommended to consume one tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm milk (which contains tryptophan) before bed for restful sleep. Melatonin also regulates the heart rate, helps to boost immunity, and helps tissues regenerate during the night. Dr. Fessenden recommends 3 to 5 tablespoons of honey per day, which will not lead to any side effects, health risks or negative health consequences.
4. Honey as a treatment for constipation
Honey is high in fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which are not only sources of energy, but which act like plant fibre when they reach the colon: they absorb water by increasing the stool volume and causing gas, which in turn increases intestinal mobility. FOS have a slight laxative effect. They are also the favourite food of the good bacteria in the colon (intestinal flora), which transform food.
5. Natural honey improves brain function
Having a healthy, functioning brain is essential, and requires brain cells to be fed energy so that they can function as necessary. Calcium also plays an important role in brain function, because it is used by neurons to send signals that communicate messages. If there is not enough calcium, the brain will not function correctly. Scientific research shows that natural honey helps the body absorb and keep calcium, which encourages healthy brain function. Calcium also helps prevent osteoporosis and other bone issues.
6. Acne and other skin concerns
Most people will experience acne at least once in their lifetime. The most common causes of acne are hormonal imbalance and bacterial colonization on the skin. Some natural remedies are as effective antibacterial agents as commercial products, with the additional advantage of being better tolerated than conventional chemical agents. As a result, honey is one of the best options for treating acne caused by bacteria. Honey acts as an antimicrobial agent due to several mechanisms that make it particularly effective.
7. Injuries, burns, and sores
The antibacterial properties of honey help prevent infections caused by burns or minor injuries. The density of honey protects the skin from bacteria and from the dirt that can get into a wound. Apply honey on a cut or wound and cover it with a bandage.
8. Moisturizes skin
Honey is an excellent ingredient to use in the bathroom, because it helps with scarring and softening the skin. It can be applied directly to dry skin or mixed with bathwater.
9. Repairs lips
Apply a bit of honey to dry or chapped lips and let it act for a few minutes to make them softer.
10. Helps the menstrual cycle
Honey stimulates the production of omega-6 fatty acids, which regulate hormonal processes in the body.
11. Boosts the immune system
Honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it is ideal for stimulating the immune system, whether it is consumed or applied directly to the skin. These properties help to keep wounds and cuts clean and free of infection, which makes it a good natural antiseptic.
Unpasteurized honey can be extremely dangerous for babies and pregnant women. When mixed with the non-acidic digestive juices of your child, honey can create an ideal environment for the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores, which produce toxins. Botulism spores are one of the rare bacteria to survive in honey, but they are also present everywhere. These spores do not bother adults, who have more acidic stomachs, but the digestive systems of young children are not developed enough to destroy them, which means that the spores can cause infant botulism. For this reason, it is recommended that honey and other sweeteners are not given to children when they are less than one year old.