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Honey is a sweet liquid made by bees using nectar from flowers. People throughout the world have hailed the health benefits of honey for thousands of years.

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Honey is available raw or pasteurized and in a variety of color grades. On average, it contains about 80% sugar. People remove honey from the hive and bottle it directly, so it may also contain trace amounts of yeast, wax, and pollen.

Some studies have found that consuming raw honey may help with seasonal allergies, and others have concluded that honey can help wounds heal. In this article, we explore the many uses of honey, including its nutritional properties and some risks to consider.

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Modern science is finding evidence to support many of the historical uses of honey.

Healing wounds and burns

A 2015 review found that honey may help heal burns, and a 2017 study found that the defensin-1 protein in honey promoted wound healing.

An earlier study had found that applying medical grade honey to the site of infections had no advantage over the administration of antibiotics — and applying honey actually increased the risk of infection in people with diabetes.

It is worth noting that many products such as face creams, deodorants, and shampoos contain honey in varying amounts.

Many honey-based cosmetics are available to purchase online.

Preventing acid reflux

Honey might help ward off acid reflux. A 2017 review of honey’s health effects proposed that honey may help line the esophagus and stomach, possibly reducing the upward flow of stomach acid and undigested food. This suggestion, however, was not supported by clinical research.

The upward flow of stomach acid can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can involve inflammation, acid reflux, and heartburn.

Fighting infections

A 2018 review found that Manuka honey can kill bacteria because it contains properties such as hydrogen peroxide and defensin-1 proteins. The authors concluded that Manuka honey could have greater antibacterial activity than other types of honey.

A 2016 in vitrostudy likewise confirmed Manuka honey’s antibacterial effects.

Manuka honey is available for purchase online.

Relieving cold and cough symptoms

A 2012 study found that honey was more effective than a placebo at reducing children’s coughs during the night.

Two years later, another study evaluated whether a honey and milk solution could treat acute coughs in children. The authors concluded that the solution appeared to be at least as effective as two over-the-counter products marketed for this purpose.

Many honey-based cold remedies are available for purchase online.

A 2012 review highlights that in Ayurvedic medicine, honey is used to treat the following wide array of illnesses, ailments, and injuries — whether it is mixed with other remedies and consumed or applied to the skin.

Clinical trials have not confirmed many of these uses. However, a 2017 review recommended honey as a treatment for various skin ailments, citing honey’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

Honey has been a mainstay in medicinal practices throughout the world for centuries. Practitioners of traditional Ayurvedic medicine, for example, found honey to be effective in treating wounds and various imbalances in the body.

The production of honey can have a negative environmental effect. Studies show that beekeeping can introduce large populations of honeybees into areas where they are not indigenous, and this can suppress pollination by native bee species. Further research highlights negative subsequent effects on entire ecosystems, including plant life.

Industrial beekeeping practices may also contribute to colony breakdowns and an overall decline in bee populations, according to a 2020 review. Another study published the same year emphasizes that increasing the overall bee population is critical for sustainable development.

The Western honeybee is not native to the United States, it arrived with colonists in the 17th century. Honeybees can pose a threat to the roughly 4,000 native species of bee in the country. For this reason, honeybees are not introduced in many conservation areas.

One tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories, 17.2 grams (g) of sugar, and no fiber, fat, or protein. Honey has a slightly acidic average pH level of 3.9, and research indicates that this acidity may help prevent the growth of bacteria.

It is worth noting that the exact physical properties of honey depend on the flora used to make it.

When stored in an airtight container, honey has no expiration date.

Honey’s sweetness can make it an ideal substitute for sugar, and research indicates that using honey instead of adding sugar may benefit people with diabetes.

It is crucial to note that honey qualifies as an added sugar and provides excess calories with no nutritional benefit. Having a diet high in added sugars can lead to increased body weight, which carries risks of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Honey is a form of sugar, so a person’s intake should be moderate. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women get no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars and men no more than 150 calories a day from this source. This amounts to about 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

Another risk is botulism. According to research, the bacteria that causes this serious illness can contaminate honey, and approximately 20% of infant botulism cases in the U.S. stem from raw honey.

Practitioners throughout the world have used honey as a remedy for more than 5,000 years. Some clinical research shows that honey may help heal wounds and burns, fight infections, and alleviate cold and flu symptoms.

A person may also benefit from using honey as a sugar substitute, in moderation. It is important to keep in mind that healthy overall eating patterns are key in preventing illness and supporting well-being. While individual foods can have certain effects, it is important to focus on consuming a varied, balanced diet.