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Honey Do

Learn the secrets of Cleopatra’s beauty regimen.

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N,
January 14, 2009
Episode #026

Today's show is about honey. It’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. What does modern science have to say about this ancient cure-all?

Tanya writes: I’ve heard that eating a tablespoon of honey a day will do wonders for your health and complexion. Is this true or simply a myth?

Tanya, I’m glad you emailed me instead of Googling your question because had you searched the Internet, you would have found websites claiming that honey is a miraculous cure-all for everything from osteoporosis to migraines. While honey definitely has some things going for it, I think some of the health claims may be a little overblown.

For example, it’s possible that honey can improve your complexion but instead of eating it, you’d want to apply it directly to your skin. Cleopatra supposedly preserved her legendary beauty by bathing in milk and honey—and there may be something to this.

The Land of Milk and Honey

Honey has natural antiseptic properties, which helps to clear and prevent breakouts. Its germ-fighting abilities also make it a great dressing for burns or other wounds. Honey also moisturizes the skin. Mixing milk and honey together is actually quite brilliant. Milk contains lactic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA. Lots of expensive anti-aging skincare products contain AHAs as the active ingredient. They make your skin look plumper and smoother by increasing the turnover of new skin cells. Turns out old Cleo really knew what she was doing.

For an old-fashioned but effective beauty treatment, try mixing equal parts honey and milk to make a thin paste and apply to your face as a mask. A clean, inexpensive paint brush works well. Wait ten minutes or so and rinse it off. Apply some dark eyeliner and you’re ready to bewitch your favorite Roman consul.

A Spoonful of Honey Makes the Medicine Go Down

In terms of the health benefits of eating honey, keep in mind that it is a very concentrated source of sugar and too much sugar—even “natural” sugar—is not good for you. But it does have a few things going for it that regular sugar does not.

Raw honey contains beneficial lactobacillus bacteria. I talked about the health benefits of friendly bacteria in episode #4. Honey can also be soothing to sore throats and coughs. In fact, one study showed that a spoonful of buckwheat honey was just as effective in soothing night-time coughs as a dose of cough syrup.

Honey also contains natural antioxidants that can help fight free radicals, something I talked about in episode #19.

Can You Cure Hayfever with Honey?

There’s also an interesting theory that eating local honey may help with hayfever symptoms—but the local part is very important. Bees, as you know, wade through a lot of pollen on their way to and from the hive. The theory is that the small amounts of pollen that end up in honey act as a sort of allergy shot, desensitizing you so that your immune system doesn’t overreact to those types of pollen in the air.

Now, different places have different pollens. It doesn’t do you much good to desensitize yourself to pollens found in Maine unless, of course, you live in Maine. You want to inoculate yourself with the pollen floating around your neighborhood. So, the more local the honey, the better it should work on your hayfever.

I know people who claim that this works for them. My sister-in-law, for example, says that eating a spoonful of local honey everyday throughout allergy season makes a huge difference in her symptoms. I couldn’t find any medical research to back this up, however—which doesn’t mean it’s not true, just that it hasn’t been well studied.

To the contrary, when I searched the medical literature for articles on honey and hayfever, most of the things that came up were talking about honey causing allergic reactions, not curing them. I did find a couple of articles on using honey to treat allergies from German medical journals dating from the 1950s and ‘60s. Fascinating from a history-of-medicine perspective but not that encouraging in terms of scientific validation.

I have to admit that I am surprised that no-one in recent history seems to have tested the old honey-for-hayfever theory in any sort of scientific way. If there are any budding immunologists listening who are looking for a good experiment, I’d say this one is wide open and could potentially get you published to boot!

Look for Raw, Local Honey

If, despite the lack of solid evidence, you’d like to give the hayfever remedy a try, find yourself a local beekeeper. Your local farmer’s market or farm stand is a good place to look. You can also check localharvest.org to find vendors from your area.

If you’re interested in the health benefits of honey, you’ll also want to eat your honey raw and unprocessed. Beneficial bacteria and other natural compounds are destroyed by pasteurization. Unless it specifically says it’s raw, assume it’s been pasteurized.

If the only kind of honey you’ve ever had is the kind that comes out of a plastic bear, you’re in for a treat. Raw, unfiltered honey is delicious—much more complex and interesting than the mass market honey you get from the grocery store. It’s also got more of the stuff that’s supposed to make honey so good for you.

If you’ve ever tried the honey remedy for hayfever, I’d love to know whether it worked for you. You can send an email to me at nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voicemail at 206-203-1438. I’ll also start a thread on the discussion board on my Nutrition Diva page on Facebook.

Administrative

This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.

These tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!

RESOURCES:

Health Benefits of Honey (George Mateljan Foundation)

Episode #4: Beneficial Bacteria

Episode #19: Superfruits and Free Radicals

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Honey image courtesy of Shutterstock

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