There is a natural healing power in honey of great benefit to man. This is affirmed in verses 68-9 of sura al-Nahl in the Qur’an: And your Lord inspired the bee: ‘Build your homes in the mountans and in the trees and in the (hives) made by mankihd’ Then (He taught the bee) to feed on every kind of fruit (of the earth) and to follow the ways of your Lord made smooth. There comes from inside their bellies a drink of diverse colours in which is healing for mankind. Surely in this is a sign for those people who reflect (al-Nahl, 16.68-9)
It is extraordinary that the curative properties of honey are documented in the world’s oldest medical literature. The Sumerians, and Egyptian physicians around 2000 BC, used honey to treat internal and external wounds, ulcers, diseases of the eyes, lungs, skin and, in particular, diseases of the stomach and intestines. The Chinese, the Indians, the Greeks and the Romans also recorded similar practices in their traditions. Hippocrates, the so-called ‘father’ of modern medicine (460-377 BC) also used honey to treat a variety of diseases. Honey was also highly regarded as a tonic to preserve youth and prolong healthy life–one Chinese Emperor used it as a drug to obtain immortality. The great Muslim physician, Ibn Sina (980-1037) wrote dozens of prescriptions containing honey in his world-famous medical textbook ‘The Canon of Medicine’. He is reported to have included among the benefits of honey that it makes you feel happy; that it refreshes you; that it assists digestion and gets rid of wind; that it helps when you have a cold; that it increases appetite; that it improves and sharpens memory; that it eases the tongue (the faculty of speech); and that it preserves youthfulness.
THE ANTIBACTERIAL ‘SYSTEM’ IN HONEY
In 1937 H. Dold et al. reported that honey has antibacterial activity and called the active agent an ‘inhibine’. Ever since, a number of scientist have tried in vain to discover the identity of this ‘inhibine’. In 1963 J.W. White et al. suggested that the ‘inbibine’ is the hydrogen peroxide produced by the honey’s glucose-oxidase system. However, results obtained by the author and by other scientists such as O.B.O’L. James et al. in 1972 and S.S. Radwan et al. in 1984 do not agree with the attribution of the ‘inhibine’ to the hydrogen peroxide produced. This author’s researches in the laboratory have shown that the antibacterial activity of honey is owed not to a single factor but to a complex ‘system’ of factors, of which there are at list three:
1- The high sugar concentration (76 g/1OO ml)
2- The acidity (pH=3.6-4.2)
3- The organic antibacterial compounds present in honey
It was observed that undiluted honey clearly exhibits antibacterial activity. The bacterial cells dry out because of the osmotic effect of the high sugar content in the solution and bacterial growth is retarded in the acidic environment which honey provides. In diluted form neither the sugar in the honey nor the acidity in it has an inhibitive effect on bacteria. Is it then the organic compounds which are responsible for inhibiting bacterial growth? It was also observed that most of the common pathogenic bacteria which infect human beings are killed in honey. Honey therefore acts as a bactericide. The researches established that the ‘inhibine’ is not a single agent but a subtle combination of intricately related factors quite unique in their antibacterial action. Further research is necessary, and is currently in progress, to identify the chemical nature of the organic antibacterial factors in honey.
THE BIOCHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF HONEY
The biochemical composition of honey is relevant to its curative properties. Beside the existence of the antibacterial ‘system’, honey is known to contain not less than 181 different compounds. These can be classified as follows:
- Simple and complex sugars
- Organic acids
- Minerals and trace elements (resembling blood composition)
- Vitamins (both water and fat soluble)
- Amino-acids (both essentials and non-essentials)
- Proteins (mainly enzymes)
- Lipids (simple, complex and wax)
- Plant flavours and colouring materials
- Microorganisms (yeast)
The list above shows just how complex the composition of honey is. It is then less of a wonder that honey contains some combination of elements which have proven so effective in the treatment of wounds and ulcers. Honey not only keeps ruptured cells sterile but also provides all the necessary micronutrients which are the building materials need to assist the cells’ full recovery. Although these micronutrients are present in only small quantities, they are available in the most easily assimilated, soluble forms. In addition, the high energy required for the healing processes to occur is provided by the simple sugars, fructose and glucose, in honey.
CLINICAL USE OF HONEY
To date the scientific and clinical evidences for the miracle of honey are numerous. Doctors and surgeons have used honey in their medical practice and even openly recommended its use. Among recent examples the use of honey for:
Treatment of serious gunshot wounds by Prof. S.A. Simirnov in 1948;
Treatment of breakdown surgical wounds by Dr. D. Cavanagh et al. in 1970;
Treatment of ulcers, surface wounds, cuts and abrasions by Dr. R. Blomfield in 1973;
Treatment of bacterial gastro enteritis (diarrhea) by Dr. I.E. Haffejee and Prof. A. Moosa in 1985;
Treatment of a wide range of serious long-standing wounds and ulcers by Dr. S.E.E. Efem in 1988;
Treatment of infected wounds in vulvectomy, infected perineum, infected abdominal wall wounds and breakdown of abdominal wall scar by Dr. R.J.F. Mclnerney in 1990.
In each of these cases honey was praised for its effectiveness as compared to ‘modern-conventional’ treatment. Honey was observed to kill bacteria at the site of wounds, to debride (clean up) wounds, rapidly replacing sloughs (dead cells) and so enabling granulation (scar) tissues to form. Honey also permitted epithelialization (i.e. growth of healthy cells) and the absorption of oedema (swellings) from around the ulcer margins. Honey reduced further infection, the risk of offensively smelly (seriously infected) wounds and so reduced need for skin graft treatments.
The verses of the Our’an which affirm the healing properties of honey affirm for us the mercy of Allah, Creator and Sustainer of the Worlds. It is also by this mercy that we study and research what He has created and made intelligible to us, including this miracle of honey. It is easy then to conclude our work, as Muslim scholars and scientists always used to begin their work, by praising Allah, and by saluting the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, who left us this advice: Whoever licks honey three mornings in a month is saved from serious illnesses.
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- CRANE, E. (1978) Honey: A Comprehensive Review Heinemann, London.
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- RADWAN. S.S.. El-Essawy, A. A. and Sarhan, M.M. (1984) ‘Experimental evidence for the occurrence in honey of specific substances active against micro-organisms’ Zbl. Mikrobiol.. 139. pp.249-55.
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- BLOMFIELD, R. (1973) ‘Honey for decubitus ulcers’ Journal of American Medical Association 224, p-905.
- HAFFEJII, I.E. and Moosa, A. (1985) ‘Honey in a treatment infantile gastroenferitis’ British Medical Journal, 290, pp.1866-7.
- EFEM. S.E. (1988) ‘Clinical observations on the wound healing properties of honey’ British Journal of Surgery, 75, pp.679-81.
- MACINERNEY. R.C.F. (1990) ‘Honey: a remedy rediscovered’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 83, p.127.
- KAMARUDDIN, M.Y (1987-91) ‘Biochemical and Pharmacological study on Malaysian Apis cerena honey’, Beekeeping: The Malaysian Beekeeping Research and Development Team - IDRC. 1987-91 Report.