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Why I love you, Honey - (1/26/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The pharmacist was putting together a display of items that his customers make and sell. Homemade lip balms, handmade jewelry, herbal soaps, and one very popular item: "Oh, organic honey," exclaimed Ms. Jones, "Is it local?" "Yes," replied the pharmacist. "It comes from the clover farm outside of town." "My grandmother used honey for all sorts of medical ailments," Ms. Jones recalled wistfully. 

Why do bees make honey? Honeybees need to survive during the cold weather months. They whip up the nectar they collect into simple sugars before the winter and store it to be eaten during this time. Bees perform this process because there are fewer flowers during the winter. Not all bees make honey or enough of it to share with humans. Example: Bumblebees live in small hives and create just a tiny amount of honey to feed themselves. Conversely, honeybees live in larger colonies and have a surplus of the sweet stuff. They are more willing to share their food with others, even bears.  

But in addition to sweetening our breakfast rolls, honey has medicinal properties that go back as far as the Quran and Bible. The Quran states, "And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in people's habitations…there, issues from within their bodies, a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for humankind." And why not? Modern medicine has identified many substances in honey that are vital to our health. These include an assortment of enzymes, organic acids, antibiotics, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, hormones, antimicrobials, as well as almost every vitamin we know.  

The literature is replete with studies that confirm the importance of honey in atherosclerosis, wound healing, asthma, and upper airway infections. Manuka honey is made in Australia by bees that pollinate the manuka bush. This type of honey exhibits antimicrobial activity against disease-causing bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori making this honey a promising treatment for wounds and stomach ulcers. With its action against bacterial infections, the substance has new importance in modern-day medicine, where resistance to pharmaceutical-grade antibiotics is rampant.  

In biology, the body can be stressed by forming more free radicals than it can handle. These molecules can destroy DNA, resulting in premature aging, disease, and even death. Antioxidants can neutralize these free radicals. Research shows that honey may be a novel antioxidant that lessens the impact of diseases associated with oxidative stress. Such diseases include diabetes, various malignancies, allergies, and inflammatory conditions. However, note that honey varies geographically depending on the flowers available to the bees. Thus, to down a dollop of honey from your pantry and expect it to cure cancer is a fool's paradise. What is the dose and the duration of the honey treatment? These details are still not known. Nevertheless, folk medicine uses honey as a treatment for many conditions. Carefully consider whether honey is the most suitable treatment for your disorder. Rather, pour it on your pancakes.  

What we are sure of is that honeybees are being killed off. Insecticides are a staple in successfully growing crops. So, bees, being insects, are dropping like flies. This massacre is a universal problem because of the bees' primary function on the planet – to pollinate. Pollination is perhaps the essential purpose of honeybees. Without honeybees, our food intake would be quite dull. With no bees, we would have no wine without grapes, fewer flowering vegetables (no mashed potatoes!), and fruits (no apple pie!). Honey is arguably the most fabulous gift God has given to humans. We must protect the bee as a food source and as the creator of nature's apothecary neatly contained in every hive.  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.  

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