Doctor Is In: The truth, benefits of honey

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR)- Honey has a long medicinal history. People in many parts of the world made offerings of honey to ancient deities. It was also used it as an embalming fluid and as a dressing for open wounds.

News 11's Dr. Sonny Saggar tells us whether there`s any truth to the reported wonders of honey.

According to Dr. Saggar, many people swarm to honey for its supposed antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Holistic practitioners consider it one of nature's best all-around remedies. But outside the laboratory, claims for honey's health benefits are yet to be proven beyond any doubt, except in the area of wound care and, to a lesser extent, cough suppression.

He says if you can choose something harmless that might work, then why not give it a try? If it doesn`t work, perhaps only then consider trying a prescription drug, which usually has a lot more mysterious side effects?

Honey comes in many varieties, depending on the floral source of pollen or nectar gathered and regurgitated by the honey bee upon arrival in the hive. Honey producers may apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a grade on their product, but the score does not account for color.

Rather, the honey is judged for clarity, aroma, and flavor, and the absence of sediments, such as honeycomb particles.

Honey can be dangerous but mostly in just two groups of people: infants and diabetics. You should never give honey to an infant.
And diabetics shouldn`t consider it an alternative to sugar.

Honey is natural and considered harmless for most adults, but pediatricians strongly caution against feeding honey to children under 2 years old. That's because of the risk of botulism, a paralytic life-threatening disorder. The spores of the botulism bacteria are found in dust and soil that may make their way into honey. Infants don`t have a developed gut and immune system to defend against infection.

In the laboratory, honey has been shown to slow down the growth of food-based pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, and also to fight many other bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, both of which are common in hospitals. But whether it does the same in people hasn't been clearly proven. Dark honey and raw honey seem to show slightly better antibacterial and antioxidant power than light-colored honey. However, I should stress that the data is far from convincing yet - maybe in the future it will reveal a much more compelling argument.

Honey, like so many `natural` remedies, has a very powerful placebo effect.

Manuka honey has been used with success, to treat chronic leg ulcers and pressure sores. Manuka honey is made in New Zealand from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium. It's the basis of a commercially available product called Medihoney, purified with UV light rather than heat to preserve its antibacterial properties. It was FDA approved in 2007 for use in treating wounds and skin ulcers and it reportedly works very well to stimulate healing, but it isn`t used as much for burns because it can cause pain.

Manuka honey's acidic pH helps the healing process, and it`s apparently very soothing and feels good when applied to the wound.

A few laboratory studies suggest honey has the potential to clear up stuffy noses and ease allergies triggered by pollen, but some people will say it does absolutely nothing. My suggestion is to give it a go. If it works, then great. If it doesn`t then no harm done!

Many people report that honey calms inflamed membranes and eases a cough. The latter claim supported by a few studies. In a study that involved 139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a popular cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep. Another study involving 105 children found that buckwheat honey trumped dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs.

If you're suffering from a cold or something going on in the throat or upper airways, taking some honey may well help fight infection and soothe membranes.

Honey may be helpful for reducing the frequency of vomiting and diarrhea in children with gastroenteritis, according to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in June 2010. There's also some evidence that honey might lower your risk of chronic illness. It may also help improve antioxidant capacity, decrease cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity and have an antimicrobial effect -- all potential benefits for fighting illness. Honey may even help limit heart disease risk through it's anti-inflammatory effects and immune system benefits, according to a review article published in Current Nutrition & Food Science in November 2011.

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