Honey the Healer


By Manzurul A. Sikder, M.D. New York, USA

This was originally published in JAMMA in 2007

Foreword by Zia H Shah:

The Holy Quran urges us to reflect on the Laws of Nature.   It draws examples from cosmology, geology, biology and physics among other branches of science, as signs for all men of understanding.  For example the Holy Quran says:

Do they not then look at the camel, how it is created?  And at the heaven, how it is raised high?  And at the mountains how they are rooted, and at the earth how it is outspread?[i]

And again:

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alterna­tion of night and day, and in the ships which sail in the sea with that which profits men, and in the water which Allah sends down from the sky and quickens therewith the earth after its death and scatters therein all kinds of beasts, and in the change of the winds, and the clouds pressed into service between the heaven and the earth    are indeed Signs for the people who understand.[ii]

Dr.  Abdus Salam wrote that seven hundred and fifty verses of the Holy Quran (almost one‑eighth of the Book) exhort believers to study Nature, to reflect, to make the best use of reason in the search of ultimate, the Creator, the Almighty Allah.   This contrasts with 250 verses in the Holy Quran in regards to different legislations.[iii]

So, in keeping with these repeated dictates of the Holy Quran we have dedicated a section of our JAMMA for Islam and Biology co-relation.  We will have at least one article in each publication.  Here is the first article on the topic of honey.

As we move forwards we will endeavour to keep improving our submissions in detail and accuracy.

[i]  The Holy Quran.   Al-Ghashiyah 88:18-21.

[ii]The Holy Quran.   Sura Baqarah 2:165

[iii] Dr.  Mohammad Iqbal.  Life: its meaning and origin.  Review of Religions; 88(2): 26-30, February, 1994.

Honey the Healer

Honey enjoys a special place in the tradition of Islamic medicine and cures. The Holy Quran calls it a healing for mankind.1 Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet of Islamsaw had said, “Healing is in three things: A gulp of honey, cupping, and branding with fire (cauterizing).”2 Honey has been mentioned repeatedly in the Traditions of the Prophet both as a spiritual rejuvenator3,4 and as a physical cure.5

Although the mainstream modern medicine has largely overlooked the usage and effectiveness of honey, due to a tremendous resurgence of interest 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 efficacy in burns, infected wounds, and skin ulcers. Avicenna back in the tenth century recommended honey in the treatment of tuberculosis.6 A recent study by Al-Waili demonstrated that honey in adequate concentration was effective in killing many other common bacteria that frequently infect humans, including such microbes as E. coli, P. aeruginosa, and H. influenzae.7 Al-Waili made surgical wounds on the dorsum of mice and infected them with S. aureus and Klebsiella sp. The wounds were treated with local application of honey four times a day, or appropriate antibiotics. He then compared them with control values. In the second phase of the experiment, he induced bacterial conjunctivitis in rats with several common pathogens. Topical application of honey four times a day or appropriate antibiotics was used for treatment and compared with control. In both cases, growth of all the isolates was completely inhibited by 30-100% concentrates of honey. Local application of raw honey on infected wounds significantly reduced erythema, edema, time for complete resolution of lesion, and time for eradication of bacterial infection.

Honey’s efficacy in treatment of wounds and other lesions is in part thought to be due to presence of multiple traditionally used antibiotic residues found in it, including penicillins, macrolides, sulfanomides and chloramphenicol.8-11 Several research labs in the United States and in Europe have used the simple techniques of liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry to reveal trace and significant amounts of many antibiotics in pure natural honey.

In recent years, numerous strains of bacteria that are highly resistant to multiple antibiotics have evolved, primarily due to injudicious usage of antibacterial medications by health care professionals. The use of honey as a wide-spectrum antibiotic is particularly appealing in the background of emergence of such 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. Case reports from Australia suggest that the use of topical honey has been shown to “rapidly and completely heal pressure ulcers” in several local nursing home residents. In addition, the paper observes, honey had a deodorizing effect on wounds and its anti-inflammatory actions helped reduce the level of pain12. As a result, honey alginates are now being used as the “standard of therapy” for chronic wounds in many nursing homes in New South Wales, Australia.

Likewise, successful treatment of burn patients with topical honey is well documented. In Nigeria, for instance, where up to 10% of the burn victims are cared for by this method alone, the results were similar to those using topical antibiotics.13 There also exists a large volume of literature which suggests that honey has potential for the treatment of diseases of the teeth and gums, mouth ulcers, and other ailments related to oral health.14

Honey, 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. Honey has been known to exert significant in vitro antioxidant activity, in part due to its phenolic content.15 Researchers have been able to reproduce some of these effects in animal models as well. Consumption of buckwheat honey increased serum antioxidant capacity by 7% in 25 healthy subjects, whereas other beverages tested did not (p<.05). In a separate study conducted by the same group at the University of Illinois,16 all seven types of honey extracted from flower at concentrations above 1mg/mL exhibited significant inhibition of mutagenicity of a food mutagen protein called Trp-p-1 in a log-linear correlation, signifying honey’s beneficial effects on cell death and development of cancer. In another recently published data from the University of Zagreb in Croatia,17 mice that received oral honey product did not subsequently develop cancer when they were injected with cancer cells, whereas cancerous cells arose in mice that were not pre-treated with honey.

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 favorable effects include increasing calcium absorption, increasing stool bulk and weight, shortening of gastrointestinal transit time, and possibly lowering cholesterol levels in blood.18 There in fact exists a Tradition of the Holy Prophetsaw in which he prescribed honey to one of his companions for upset stomach and diarrhea.5

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, however, 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 Quran and the admonitions of the Holy Prophetsaw could serve as our guiding light.

  1. Al-Nahl:70
  2. Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 584
  3. Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 227
  4. Muslim, Book 029, Number 56
  5. Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 588
  6. Asadi-Pooya AA, Pnjehshahin MR, Beheshti S. The antimycobacterial effect of honey: an in vitro study. Riv Biol. 2003;96:491-5
  7. 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;7:210-22
  8. Wang J. Confirmatory determination of six penicillins in honey by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry. J AOAC Int. 2004;87:45-55
  9. Wang J. Determination of five macrolide antibiotic residues in honey by LC-ESI-MS and LC-ESI-MS/MS. Agric Food Chem. 2004;52:171-81
  10. Verzegnassi L, Royer D, Mottier P, Stadler RH. Analysis of chloramphenicol in honeys of different geographical origin by liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry. Food Addit Contam. 2003;20:335-42
  11. Verzegnassi L, Savoy_Perroud MC, Stadler RH. Application of liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry to the detection of 10 sulfonamides in honey. J Chromatogr A. 2002;977:77-87
  12. Van der Weyden EA. The use of honey for the treatment of two patients with pressure ulcers. Br J Community Nurs. 2003;8:S14-20
  13. Adesunkanmi K and Oyelami OA. The pattern and outcome of burn injuries at Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha, Nigeria: a review of 156 cases. J Trop Med Hyg. 1994;97:108-12
  14. Molan PC. The potential of honey to promote oral wellness. Gen Dent. 2001;49:584-9
  15. Gheldof N, Wang XH, Engeseth NJ. Buckwheat honey increases serum antioxidant capacity in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2003;51:1500-5
  16. Wang XH, Andrae L, Engeseth NJ. Antimutagenic effect of various honeys and sugars against Trp-p-1. J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50:6923-8
  17. From http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/health/4063377.stm
  18. Chow J. Probiotics and prebiotics: A brief overview. J Ren Nutr. 2002;12:76-86
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