What’s All the Hype About Honey?

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

This Sunday evening marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It will be the start of 5779. We will take time as this year comes to a close to appreciate the good things in our lives and to extend heartfelt wishes that the next year brings goodness to all of you.

There are some foods specific to this holiday that are eaten for their symbolism; we eat pomegranates and apples that are dipped in honey. In particular we eat honey in the hope that the coming year will be sweet.

I am in the habit each year at this time of doing a review of the scientific literature to see what new information has been published regarding honey and health. It looks like I started the practice in 2005. http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/news/honeybaklava.html.

The number of articles being published about honey seems to have grown over the years: 689 articles have been published in the first 9 months of 2018; 873 in 2017. Back in 2006 my PubMed search for honey yielded only 248 citations for 2005.

Let’s start by looking at the interesting clinical trials with humans. Last February, TT Poovelikunnel and colleagues compared manuka honey against the heavy duty antibiotic mupirocin to treat patients who had methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus living in their nasal passages. These MRSA bugs like to hide out in the nose, a kind of reservoir from where infection then spreads to the skin. Both treatments worked: the treatments were equally effective, neither significantly better than the other. The honey cleared the infection in 43% of the patients treated and the drug in 57% of the patients treated, statistically no different.1

Going back to October 2017, manuka honey made up as a gel and eye drops was used to treat 114 patients with dry eye. After 8 weeks there was significant improvement in a range of symptoms.2 Another trial, this one published in December 2017 reported that honey was useful for dry eye conditions caused by contact lenses.3

Speaking of honey and drug comparisons, honey was compared against phenytoin in women who had received episiotomies: 120 women divided into three groups were given topical honey, phenytoin or placebo. Women receiving either treatment healed faster than the placebo group but neither treatment changed pain.4 Oral doses of honey given to female athletes significantly affected their antioxidant status after exercise. The reduction in oxidative stress peaked 1-2 hours after consuming the honey.5 A study published August 5, 2018 reported that topical honey reduced oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy in 100 children. The honey-treated kids had less severe mucositis which healed faster.6

When we suggest honey to cancer patients they often flinch at the idea as they think of honey as sugar and worry that “sugar feeds cancer.” I’m not going to address that idea at the moment. Safe to say it is an oversimplification. It looks more and more though that honey does not feed cancer. Why exactly isn’t clear. It seems to often discourage tumor cell growth.

Combined with the chemo drug 5-FU, honey enhances the drug’s effect at preventing colon cancer cells from spreading and encouraging them to drop dead, well undergo apoptosis, but that’s essentially the same thing.7 Prostate cancer cells treated with honey lose their ability to metastasize.8 Something else people worry about is that honey will cause dental cavities. It doesn’t appear to.9 A mixture of honey, saffron, astragalus and sedge may prove useful for cognitive problems. At least it may have helped in a randomized trial with 60 people.10

Another benefit that some will find surprising is that honey appears to protect against metabolic syndrome. On a multiple-choice test, I bet most doctors would guess that one wrong. If you think of the characteristics of metabolic syndrome (MetS), honey appears to correct most of them. Honey has a low glycemic index, reduces blood sugar levels, prevents weight gain, “… improves lipid metabolism by reducing total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride (TG), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which leads to decreased risk of atherogenesis. In addition, honey enhances insulin sensitivity that further stabilizes blood glucose levels and protects the pancreas from overstimulation brought on by insulin resistance. Furthermore, antioxidative properties of honey help in reducing oxidative stress, which is one of the central mechanisms in MetS. Lastly, honey protects the vasculature from endothelial dysfunction and remodeling.”11

For rats being fed too many NSAIDs who end up with gastric ulcers, honey may be a helpful treatment.12 A new rat study reports that adding black cumin aka black seed (Nigella sativa) to the honey as it is traditionally taken, has a synergistic effect on the rate of healing, speeding it up.13

We have seen plenty of evidence over the years that honey helps wounds heal. From the ever-expanding amount of research being done with honey, it appears it does much more!

About the Author

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO, is a graduate of National University of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, and recently retired from his practice in Denver, Colorado. He served as president to the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is a past member of the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He is recognized as a fellow by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. He serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review (NDNR), and Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal. In 2008, he was awarded the Vis Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. His writing appears regularly in NDNR, the Townsend Letter, and Natural Medicine Journal, where he is the past Abstracts & Commentary editor.


  1. Poovelikunnel TT1, Gethin G2, Solanki D3, McFadden E4, Codd M5, Humphreys H6. Randomized controlled trial of honey versus mupirocin to decolonize patients with nasal colonization of meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. J Hosp Infect. 2018 Feb;98(2):141-148. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2017.10.016. Epub 2017 Oct 26.
  2. Albietz JM1, Schmid KL1. Randomised controlled trial of topical antibacterial Manuka (Leptospermum species) honey for evaporative dry eye due to meibomian gland dysfunction. Clin Exp Optom. 2017 Nov;100(6):603-615. doi: 10.1111/cxo.12524. Epub 2017 Jun 6.
  3. Wong D, Albietz JM, Tran H, Du Toit C, Li AH, Yun T, Han J, Schmid KL. Treatment of contact lens related dry eye with antibacterial honey. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2017 Dec;40(6):389-393. doi: 10.1016/j.clae.2017.10.001.
  4. Lavaf M, Simbar M, Mojab F, Alavi Majd H, Samimi M. Comparison of honey and phenytoin (PHT) cream effects on intensity of pain and episiotomy wound healing in nulliparous women. J Complement Integr Med. 2017 Oct 5;15(1). pii:/j/jcim.2018.15.issue-1/jcim-2016-0139/jcim-2016-0139.xml.
  5. Ahmad NS, Abdul Aziz A, Kong KW, Hamid MSA, Cheong JPG, Hamzah SH. Dose-Response Effect of Tualang Honey on Postprandial Antioxidant Activity and Oxidative Stress in Female Athletes: A Pilot Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Dec;23(12):989-995. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0129. Epub 2017 Jul 14. Indian J Pediatr. 2018 Aug 6. doi: 10.1007/s12098-018-2733-x. [Epub ahead of print]
  6. Singh R1, Sharma S2, Kaur S2, Medhi B3, Trehan A4, Bijarania SK5. Effectiveness of Topical Application of Honey on Oral Mucosa of Children for the Management of Oral Mucositis Associated with Chemotherapy. Free Radic Biol Med. 2018 Jul 26;126:41-54. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.07.014. [Epub ahead of print]
  7. Afrin S1, Giampieri F1, Forbes-Hernández TY1, Gasparrini M1, Amici A1, Cianciosi D1, Quiles JL, Peer J. Manuka honey synergistically enhances the chemopreventive effect of 5-fluorouracil on human colon cancer cells by inducing oxidative stress and apoptosis, altering metabolic phenotypes and suppressing metastasis ability. Free Radic Biol Med. 2018 Jul 3;6:e5115. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5115. eCollection 2018.
  8. Abel SDA1, Dadhwal S2, Gamble AB2, Baird SK1. Honey reduces the metastatic characteristics of prostate cancer cell lines by promoting a loss of adhesion. Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 19;8(1):10936. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29188-x.
  9. Habluetzel A1, Schmid C2,3, Carvalho TS2, Lussi A2, Eick S3. Impact of honey on dental erosion and adhesion of early bacterial colonizers. J Res Med Sci. 2018 Jun 6;23:58. doi: 10.4103/jrms.JRMS_949_17. eCollection 2018.
  10. Akouchekian S1, Omranifard V1, Maracy MR1, Pedram A1, Zefreh AA1. Efficacy of herbal combination of sedge, saffron, and Astragalus honey on major neurocognitive disorder. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 2;10(8). pii: E1009. doi: 10.3390/nu10081009.
  11. Ramli NZ1,2, Chin KY3, Zarkasi KA4,5, Ahmad F6. A Review on the Protective Effects of Honey against Metabolic Syndrome. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 Jul 15;2018:7515692. doi: 10.1155/2018/7515692. eCollection 2018.
  12. Fazalda A1, Quraisiah A1, Nur Azlina MF1. Antiulcer Effect of Honey in Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Induced Gastric Ulcer Model in Rats: A Systematic Review. Acta Cir Bras. 2018 Jun;33(6):518-523. doi: 10.1590/s0102-865020180060000006.
  13. Avadi SMR1, Hashemi M2, Mohammadi Y3, MamMohammadi A4, Sharifi A5, Makarchian HR6. Synergistic effect of honey and Nigella sativa on wound healing in rats. Acta Cir Bras. 2018 Jun;33(6):518-523.