Honey the Healer

60 The Review of Religions – February 2005 Honey enjoys a special place in the tradition of Islamic medicine and cures. The Holy Qur’an calls it a healing for mankind. And thy Lord has inspired the bee, saying, ‘Make thou houses in the hills and in the t rees and in the tre l l i s e s which they build. Then eat of every kind of fruit, and follow the ways of thy Lord that have been made easy for thee.’ There comes forth from their bellies a drink of vary i n g hues. Therein is a cure for men. (Ch.16: Vs.69-70) Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet of Islam ( s a ) had said, “Healing is in three things: A gulp of honey, cupping, and branding with fire (cauterising).”1 Honey has been mentioned repeatedly in the Traditions of the Prophet both as a spiritual rejuvenator2,3 and as a physical cure.4 Although the mainstream modern medicine has larg e l y overlooked the usage and effec- tiveness of honey, due to a tremendous resurgence of inter- est in herbal and alternative medicines in recent years, clinical researches are being conducted around the world investigating its health benefits. Initial studies suggest that honey may have an important role to play, especially in wound healing and restoration. Honey has been used with great e fficacy in burns, infected wounds, and skin ulcers. Avicenna, back in the tenth century, recommended honey in the treatment of tuberculosis.5 A recent study demonstrated that honey in adequate concentration was bactericidal to many other By Manzurul A. Sikder, MD, USA the Healer HONEY 61The Review of Religions – February 2005 HONEY THE HEALER common human pathogens, especially E. coli, P. aeruginosa, and H. influenzae.6 This is in part thought to be due to the presence of multiple traditionally used antibiotic residues found in honey.7-9 The use of honey as a wide-spectrum antibiotic is particularly appealing in the background of emergence of multi-resistant organisms in the general community. Its good antimicrobial effect, sterility, low cost, and easy availability make honey an ideal antibacterial agent. Bedsores are a major cause of morbidity among patients with immobility, and a great challenge to the clinician. Use of topical honey has been shown to rapidly and completely heal pressure ulcers. As a result, honey alginates are now being used as the ‘standard of therapy’ for chronic wounds in many nursing h o m e s .1 0 Likewise, successful treatment of burn patients with topical honey is well docu- mented. In Nigeria, for instance, where up to 10% of the burn victims are cared for by this method alone, the results were similar to using topical antibiotics.11 There also exists a large volume of literature which suggests that honey has potential for the treatment of periodontal disease, mouth ulcers, and other ailments related to oral health.12 H o n e y, a chemically complex structure, is comprised primarily of sugars, but also contains many other active elements, including antibiotic residues as mentioned above and several biologically significant antioxidants. An antioxidant is a chemical that prevents the oxidation of other compounds. In biological sys- tems, the normal processes of oxidation produce highly reac- tive free radicals. These can readily react with and damage other molecules. This may result in the damage to the body’ s own cells, giving rise to cell decay and cancer. The presence of antioxidants in the system can ‘mop up’ free radicals before they damage other essential molecules. Honey has been known to exert significant in vitro antioxidant activity, in part 62 The Review of Religions – February 2005 HONEY THE HEALER due to its phenolic content.1 3 Researchers have been able to reproduce some of these effects in animal models as well. In one study conducted at the University of Illinois on Tr p – p – 1 mutagenicity,14 all types of honey used exhibited significant inhibition in a log-linear corre- lation, signifying its beneficial e ffects on cell death and carcinogenesis. Honey has also been described as a pre-biotic, a food ingredient that beneficially affects host health by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of useful bacteria in the colon. These favourable effects include increasing calcium absorption, increasing fecal weight, shortening of gastrointestinal transit time, and possibly lowering blood lipid levels.1 5 There in fact exists a Tradition of the Holy Prophet(sa) in which he prescribed honey to one of his companions for upset stomach and diarrhoea. In a world of novel diseases and emerging pathogens, honey can play a significant role in healing and physical well-being. Wider- scale investigations are, how- ever, needed to fully understand its far-reaching health benefits. Its potential in preventative medicine, for example, needs to be further examined. The words of the Qur’an and the admonitions of the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) could serve as our guiding light. References 1. Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 584 2. Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 227 3. Muslim, Book 29, Number 56 4. Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 588 5. Asadi-Pooya AA, et al. ‘The antimycobacterial effect of honey: an in vitro study.’ Riv Biol. 2003 Sep-Dec;96(3):491-5 6. Al-Waili NS. ‘Investigating the antimicrobial activity of natural honey and its effects on the pathogenic bacterial infections of surgical wounds and conjunctiva.’ J Med Food. 2004 63The Review of Religions – February 2005 HONEY THE HEALER Summer;7(2):210-22 7. Wang J. ‘Confirmatory deter- mination of six penicillins in honey by liquid chroma- t o g r a p h y / e l e c t r o s p r a y ionization-tandem mass spec- t r o m e t r y.’ J AOAC Int. 2004 Jan-Feb;87(1):45-55 8. Wang J. ‘’Determination of five macrolide antibiotic residues in honey by LC-ESI-MS and LC- ESI-MS/MS.’ Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jan 28;52(2):171-81 9. Verzegnassi L, et al. ‘Analysis of chloramphenicol in honeys of different geographical origin by liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tan- dem mass spectrometry.’ Food Addit Contam. 2003 Apr;20(4):335-42 10. Van der Weyden EA. ‘The use of honey for the treatment of two patients with pressure ulcers.’ Br J Community Nursing. 2003 Dec;8(12):S14-20 11. Adesunkanmi K and Oyelami OA. ‘The pattern and outcome of burn injuries at Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha, Nigeria: a review of 156 cases.’ Journal of Tropical Medical Hygiene. 1994 Apr;97(2):108-12 12. Molan PC. ‘The potential of honey to promote oral wellness.’ Gen Dent. 2001 Nov- Dec;49(6):584-9 13. Gheldof N, et al. ‘Buckwheat honey increases serum anti- oxidant capacity in humans.’ J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Feb 26;51(5):1500-5 14. Wang XH, et al. ‘Antimutagenic e ffect of various honeys and sugars against Trp-p-1. J Agric Food Chem.’ 2002 Nov 6;50(23):6923-8 15. Chow J. ‘Probiotics and Prebiotics: A Brief Overview.’ J Ren Nutr. 2002 Apr;12(2):76-86 We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. 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