Vol.1, No.2, 281-283 (2009)
Copyright © 2009 Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
Therapeutic properties of honey
Giuseppe Pipicelli1, Patrizio Tatti2
1The Diabetology and Dietology Complex Operating Unit, A.D.I. Study Groups, Province Healthcare Company Catanzaro, Italy;
2The Diabetology and Endocrinology Complex Operating Unit, ASL RMH Rome, Italy
Received 9 October 2009; revised 27 October 2009; accepted 29 October 2009.
Honey has been successfully used in medicine
since antiquity. However, with the advent of
modern medicine it has been less used, espe-
cially in the English-speaking world. Its benefi-
cial effects in different disorders, rediscovered
in recent decades, will be discussed below on
the basis of a series of international scientific
studies conducted to investigate the therapeutic
properties of this natural product and published
on Medline. It should be noted, however, that
the therapeutic use of honey in everyday clinical
practice needs to be validated by relevant
guidelines and should only be adopted under
medical prescription, in accordance with criteria
of efficacy and safety for both patients and
healthcare providers.
Keywords: Antibacterial; Oncolgy; Wounds; Im-
In ancient times, soldiers with very serious wounds
and burns were treated with a mixture of honey and
curdled milk applied on the injuries with a cotton
bandage. A similar mixture was used in different cul-
tures throughout history, including the Romans, many
African tribes, native Americans, and rural popula-
tions in the South of the United States [1]. Used as a
local treatment, honey is very useful as a healing
agent and, compared to pharmaceutical products, has
the advantage of being inexpensive – not a minor de-
tail in our days, when medicine is expected to be not
only effective and efficient, but also low-cost. In the
treatment of dressed or infected wounds, honey is
often more effective than pharmaceutical preparations,
and more easily available [2,3]. Imbibed gauze is used
to apply it onto the injuries: this confirms something
that has been known for centuries, i.e. that honey has
a recognized antibacterial activity. Its use in surgery is
strongly recommended, also for the topical treatment
of postoperative wounds, such as Cesarean sections
[4]. The use of alginate honey on ulcers is increas-
ingly becoming a widely used, easy to apply healing
agent. Similar results are also demonstrated in the
treatment of burns [5]. In particular, the topical use of
concentrated raw honey has been proved to promote
faster eradication of pathogenic bacteria, reduce the
length of antibiotic treatment and hospitalization, and
prevent wound dehiscence and eschar formation. The
only factor which may limit these effects is inade-
quate sterility of the preparations, in which case this
type of treatment may be highly counterproductive.
In addition to antibacterial properties, scientific
evidence supports anti-inflammatory and immuno-
stimulating activity of honey [6-11]. Certain types of
honey, obtained from particular flowers found in Aus-
tralia and New Zealand (leptospermum spp) have
strong anti-inflammatory properties and have been
approved for sale as therapeutic honey (Medihoney
and Manuka honey) and used for the treatment of
numerous types of skin lesions[12,13,15]. A mixture
of honey, olive oil and bee wax is an effective treat-
ment for hemorrhoids and anal fistulas [14]. No side
effects are reported. The frequent use of honey-based
preparations to be applied on catheters in dialyzed
patients is a satisfactory alternative to chemoprophy-
laxis for patients with central venous catheters [15].
Again, the prerequisite is perfect sterility and, as in
other cases, the use of honey for this application must
be validated by official medical guidelines.
In oncology, honey has been used as a barrier
against the implantation of tumors in laparoscopic
oncological surgical procedures. In the same field, the
intake of honey reduces chemotherapy-related neu-
tropenia fever by alleviating pancytopenia, of which
chemotherapy fever is a symptom. A study by the uni-
versity of Bonn showed that the use of special
honey-based preparations may provide protection
G. Pipicelli et al. / HEALTH 1 (2009) 281-283
SciRes Copyright © 2009 Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
Honey Nutritional Chart (Source: Inran).
Edible part (%) 100
Water (g) 18
Proteins (g) 0.6
Lipids (g) 0
Carbohydrates (g) 80.3
Starch (g) 0
Soluble sugars (g) 80.3
Total fiber 0
Energy (kcal) 304
Energy (kJ) 1270
Sodium 11
Potassium 51
Iron 0.5
Calcium 5
Phosphorous 6
Thiamin tr.
Riboflavin 0.04
Niacin 0.30
Vitamin A (ret.eq.) 0
Vitamin C 1
Vitamin E 0
International scientific evidence of the use of honey in
from hospital infections in immuno-depressed child-
ren with blood cancer. In a Russian study, the use of a
food product (Honey Laminolact), containing milk
ferments, amino acids, fruit pectines and of course
honey, proved effective in protecting the gastrointes-
tinal tract from radiotherapy in women with uterus
cancer [18].
In clinical trials, the anti-cancer properties of honey
have been tested in rats. Honey proved to be moder-
ately effective against tumors and significantly effec-
tive against metastatic growths. It also enhanced the
anti-cancer activity of 5-fluorouracile and cyclo-pho-
sphamide [16]
Honey also helps treat cough and breathing diffi-
culties in children with upper respiratory tract infec-
tions [19]. Other studies have confirmed its antibacte-
rial activity, including an Australian study where the
use of 13 types of honey had antibacterial effects
against the growth of Escherichia coli and Pseudo-
monas aeruginosa colonies [6,7,10]. These antibacte-
rial properties were similar in both farm-made and
industrial products, as long as the concentration of
pure honey was 2.5% or higher. According to studies
conducted in the Arab Emirates, honey added to bac-
teria cultures, especially in the case of anaerobic bac-
teria, reduces their growth with dose-dependant effi-
cacy. [8]
Honey is also recommended in dental hygiene. The
use of honey chewing-gum three times a day after
meals significantly reduces plaque and the risk of
gingivitis. It also has therapeutic properties in the
treatment of gingivitis and periodontal disorders. [13]
In a study on 10 cases of dental infections, the local
use of natural honey in dental abscesses and chronic
osteomyelitis proved to have antibacterial effects [20].
In dermatology, the use of mixtures containing honey,
olive oil and bee wax is very helpful in the treatment
of dermatitis and psoriasis vulgaris, as well as sebor-
rheic dermatitis and dandruff (provided the treatment
is applied every day for at least four weeks), by com-
bining antibacterial activity with antifungal and anti-
oxidant effects. So far we have examined the thera-
peutic properties of honey for topical use; however,
honey taken orally also has medicinal properties as
demonstrated by other important studies. In particular,
propolis, a product of honey, seems to have positive
effects on intestinal giardiasis, a parassitosis which
affects mostly children [22]. In some studies on rats,
the intake of honey was effective against the onset of
colitis [23]. As no relevant studies on humans have
yet been conducted, the use of honey to treat these
disorders requires further investigation. For the mo-
ment, we may assume that honey plays an important
role in preventing inflammatory tissues from produc-
ing free radicals [23]. As regards the gastrointestinal
tract, the intake of honey helps treat Helicobacter py-
lori infections, particularly difficult to eradicate, by
fighting the bacteria’s tendency to develop resistance
to antibiotics [24], which is the primary cause of
treatment failure. Honey is a traditional treatment for
dyspepsia, highly recommended by physicians based
on professional experience, although no scientific
evidence exists to support its efficacy. It has been
discovered, however, that Helicobacter pylori is
probably the agent that causes dyspepsia: this sug-
gested that the therapeutic action of honey at the sys-
temic level may be attributable to antibacterial prop-
erties [25]. A comparison between the effects of glu-
cose and honey in increasing the blood sugar levels of
patients with diabetes mellitus has demonstrated that
honey causes less hyperglycemia than sugar [26].
Therefore, in diabetic patients, honey is indicated as a
good substitute for sugar, with the additional benefit
of a lower glycemic value.
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