Although there is only a small quantity of proteins, vitamins and minerals and other compounds in Raw honey their nutritional importance lies on how these compounds interact with the body to produce a medicinal effect.
The low water content, high sugar content and low pH level of honey inhibits the growth of micro organisms and fungi making honey antimicrobial. The Raw honey enzyme glucose oxidase produces at very low and consistent levels the agent hydrogen peroxide which kills and prevents the growth of bacteria. The reason that raw honey should not be heated is because heat along with light destroys this enzyme and prevents honey from killing bacteria. Thus for the highest antibacterial activity, honey should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Antioxidants are molecules in the body that prevent free radicals (molecules with unpaired electrons) from damaging the cellular membrane and the cell DNA. If cellular components such as these are damaged they may lead to cancer, accelerated ageing and other diseases. Normally in a living organism there is a balance between the production of free radicals and the antioxidant protective activity. The term oxidative stress describes an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants which is highly dangerous for the body.
Raw honey contains significant antioxidant activity including glucose oxidase, catalase, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, phenolic acids, carotenoid derivatice, organic acids, amino acids and proteins.
A daily Raw honey intake of 1.2 g/kg body weight increases the body’s antioxidant capacity by increasing the level of the following antioxidant agents including: Vit C by 47%, B-carotene b 3%, uric acid by 12 %.
Antioxidant activity depends heavily on the type of flower the honey originated from.
Inflammation is the body’s response to tissue damage caused by injury, irritants or harmful pathogens. Inflammation can either be acute (short term) or chronic (long-term). The 5 cardinal signs of inflammation to the affected area include: swelling, redness, heat, pain and loss of function.
Raw honey reduces the above signs of inflammation by providing energy to the body’s immune cells to fight off the causes of the inflammation. In one study the ingestion of honey decreased inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease and was just as effective as the prescription treatment for colitis.
Honey has a positive effect against dental plaque development and gingivitis because it is a strong antimicrobial substance. The ingestion of raw honey causes no erosion of tooth enamel unlike for example, drinking fruit juice. It is safe to say that although sweet, honey does not cause cavities unlike refined sugar and in some cases honey can prevent cavities.
Raw honey has been shown to treat a number of other digestive problems including constipation, stomach ulcers and inflammation of the colon. The reason for this is because honey is a strong inhibitor of Helicobacter pylori , the agent responsible for causing peptic ulcers and gastritis. Honey also has a prebiotic effect causing an increase of friendly bacteria in the intestines. In clinical studies with infants and children honey shortened the duration of bacterial diarrhoea. For constipation, large intake of honey 50-100g can lead to a mild laxative effect because fructose alone is less readily absorbed in the intestinal tract than when combined with glucose thus helps with regular digestion.
In a breast cancer study, raw honey was shown to activate the immune system and is advantageous with regard to inhibiting the tumour from spreading. In addition, honey given orally or intralesionally inhibits tumour growth and spreading shown in patients with bladder cancer.
Honey intake reduces cholesterol and lipid levels.
Studies have shown that infants on a diet with Raw honey had better blood formation and a higher weight gain. Raw honey is better tolerated by babies than sucrose and showed less throw up. When compared to water, honey significantly reduces crying phases in babies, a better skin colour, no digestive problems, and these infants were less likely to develope diseases.
There is a health concern regarding honey as it contains the bacteria clostridium botulinum. Since honey is a non sterilized packaged food, there is a risk of this bacteria surviving in honey however these traces of bacteria cannot produce toxins in the honey.
The issue is that in the stomach of infants younger than the age of one, the bacteria can theoretically survive and build the toxin in the stomach however children over the ages of 12 months can ingest honey without any risk. In some cases infant botulism has been reported about 1 a year and hence why honey packers in the UK place a warning on the label that “honey should not be given to infants under the age of 1”.
Raw honey allergies are very uncommon. It is reported that patients allergic to pollen are rarely allergic to honey. The incidence of honey allergy in a group of 173 food allergy patient’s representative of the overall population was only 2.3% and is attributed to the bee origin.