Honey and Internal Disorders


The Greek philosopher Democritus (ca. 460–ca. 370 BCE) was the co-originator of the belief that all matter is made up of various imperishable, indivisible elements that he called atoma, or “indivisible units,” from which we get the English word atom. He was also known as the “laughing philosopher” because he seemed to have achieved happiness through inner tranquillity.

According to the compiler and writer Stobaeus, Democritus counseled reason and balance when dealing with issues of lifestyle and health. His health advice was lent credibility by the fact that Democritus lived to be a very old man. Although some claim that he lived a mere ninety years, the astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus assures us that Democritus died at the age of 109. When asked the secret of his extreme longevity, Democritus answered that he anointed his body with olive oil and ate honey daily.

Honey is an ideal healer for treating various types of wounds and burns. it not only has potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects when applied to wounds, but it can also help reduce both swelling and pain that is not just a result of clearing infection and debriding the wound.

Although honey has been taken internally as a folk remedy since even before the time of Democritus, very little scientific research has documented its healthful effects in the prevention and cure of various diseases during the past sixty years or so. While clearly more research needs to be done—especially double-blind human studies—a sampling of available scientific data reveals a wide range of honey’s therapeutic applications.

Honey and Intestinal Disorders

The ancient Assyrians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese used honey to not only heal skin-related wounds but also to cure stomach and intestinal complaints. Hippocrates—often referred to as “The Father of Medicine”—recommended eating honey to heal gastritis. In recent times, consuming honey to treat intestinal tract diseases has been documented in medical literature since 1949, including gastrointestinal infections like gastritis, duodenitis, and gastric ulcer caused by bacteria and rotovirus. Most of the studies suggested that healing was brought about primarily through honey’s antibacterial activity.

Gastrointestinal microflora is recognized as an important factor in intestinal and overall health. Increasing the populations of Bifidobacterium and other “healthy bacteria” in the intestines has been found to be important in both aiding digestion and helping to protect the body from harmful pathogens.

The results of a study done at Michigan State University and reported in the Journal of Food Protection revealed that honey enhanced the growth of human Bifidobacterium in the intestine, probably due to the oligosaccharides that are present in honey at levels of 4 to 5 percent.

The human intestine is normally coated with mucus, which is a viscid and slippery secretion rich in mucoproteins. It is produced by mucous membranes that the secretions moisten and protect. In order for gastrointestinal infection to take place, bacteria must be able to both adhere to and colonize this delicate mucosal surface. Clinicians have proposed that blocking the attachment of bacteria to the intestinal epithelium (the membranous tissue that covers the surface of the intestine) is a potential strategy for disease prevention.


Salmonella is a bacterium that causes typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and food-borne illness. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps from twelve to seventy-two hours after infection. Symptoms usually last from four to seven days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In severe cases, the infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites. It can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness than others.

A pioneer in vitro study was carried out in 2003 by a team of microbiologists and immunologists from the College of medicine and health Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. The researchers’ goal was to determine the antimicrobial properties of honey and whether honey can prevent the bacteria Salmonella enteritis from adhering to the intestinal wall.

Using cultures of S. enteritis from a British laboratory and four different types of unadulterated Omani honey, the researchers evaluated the antibacterial value of honey on the epithelial cells of the small intestines of mice. While the Salmonella bacteria readily adhered to and colonized untreated cells, they could not adhere to cells treated with honey, even at dilutions of up to 1:8. Although the researchers couldn’t explain the reasons for this scientifically, three opinions were presented.

  • Nonspecific mechanical inhibition may have occurred through the coating of the bacteria by the honey.
  • Some of the phytochemicals found in honey may have altered the electrostatic charge that allows bacteria to adhere to the intestinal wall.
  • The honey simply kills the bacteria outright.

Though research on humans needs to be done, this groundbreaking research reveals how honey can be a powerful preventive medicine in regions where Salmonella infection is prevalent.

Infantile Gastroenteritis

Infantile gastroenteritis is a common viral infection that affects infants and children. Also known as gastric flu and stomach flu (although it’s unrelated to influenza), this disease consists of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, involving both the stomach and the small intestine, resulting in acute diarrhea. Diarrhea causes dehydration and is a common cause of death among young children, especially in the developing countries of the world.

Viral infections are the main cause of gastroenteritis in infants and children and at least half of the cases result from consuming infected food or unsafe water: by the age of five nearly every child will have experienced at least one episode of rotavirus gastroenteritis. Worldwide, inadequate treatment of gastroenteritis kills an estimated five to eight million people per year, especially in developing countries.

A group of pediatricians from the Faculty of medicine at the University of Natal in South Africa undertook a study using honey in an oral rehydration solution in infants and children with gastroenteritis at the R. K. Khan hospital in Durban. One hundred and sixty infants and children aged eight days to eleven years took part in the study. The children were divided into two groups: one group (eighty-nine patients) received routine management for diarrhea, which included oral fluids alone and/or intravenous fluids containing glucose and electrolytes. The second group
(eighty patients) was given a drink containing 50 ml of honey per liter, with the electrolyte content equal to the drink given to group one.

The results, which were reported in the British Medical Journal, showed that honey shortens the duration of diarrhea in patients with bacterial gastroenteritis caused by organisms like Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli. The researchers also found that honey does not prolong the duration of nonbacterial diarrhea. Pointing out that honey was safe, nonallergenic, and readily available in most communities, they concluded that honey “may safely be used as a substitute for glucose in an oral rehydration solution containing electrolytes.”

Dyspepsia and Stomach Ulcers

Honey has long been a traditional folk remedy to treat dyspepsia, a common health complaint that involves chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort centered in the upper abdomen.

The finding that Helicobacter pylori is probably the cause of many cases of dyspepsia has raised the possibility that the therapeutic action of honey may be due to its antibacterial properties. Consequently, a team of researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato in hamilton, New Zealand, tested the sensitivity of Helicobacter pylori to honey using isolates from biopsies of gastric ulcers.

It was found that all five isolates tested were killed by a 20 percent (v/v) solution of manuka honey in an agar well-diffusion assay. However, none showed sensitivity to a 40 percent solution of a honey in which the antibacterial activity was due primarily to its content of hydrogen peroxide.

Assessment of the MIC by inclusion of manuka honey in the agar showed that all seven isolates of Helicobacter tested had visible growth over the incubation period of seventy-two hours prevented completely by the presence of 5 percent of manuka honey.

A study undertaken twelve years later by researchers at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Medicine and Health Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University, sought to assess the antibacterial potential of eight types of honey sold in the city of Muscat (the capital and largest city of Oman) on isolates of Helicobacter pylori. they also wanted to find if there was a synergistic effect between honey and two traditional therapies—clarithromycin and amoxicillin—for H. pylori gastritis and duodenal ulcer.

The researchers found that all honey samples inhibited growth of H. pylori at no dilution, but there are different zones of inhibition at 1:2 to 1:8 dilutions. Overall, Black Forest honey was found to have the highest antibacterial activity, followed by Langnese brand honey, a premium German honey often available at gourmet food stores. They observed neither synergy nor antagonism between honey and clarithromycin or honey and amoxicillin using H. pylori as a test organism.


New York–and Dubai-based physician Noori Al-Waili and his colleagues undertook a prospective pilot study to evaluate the therapeutic effect of topical application of a mixture of honey, olive oil, and beeswax on patients with anal fissure or hemorrhoids.

They selected fifteen patients—thirteen males and two females—with a median age of forty-five years (with a range of twenty-eight to seventy), who were diagnosed with either anal fissure (five patients) or first- to third-degree hemorrhoids (four with first degree, four with second degree, and two with third degree). They were treated with a twelve-hour application of a natural mixture containing honey, olive oil, and beeswax in ratio of 1:1:1(v/v/v).

Bleeding, itching, edema, and erythema were measured using the following scoring method: 0 = none, 1 = mild, 2 = moderate, 3 = severe, and 4 = very severe. The pain score was checked using a visual analog scale with a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 10.

Efficacy of treatment was assessed by comparing the symptoms’ score before and after treatment at weekly intervals for a maximum of four weeks. The patients were observed for evidence of adverse effects such as the appearance of new signs and symptoms, or worsening of the existing symptoms.

Dr. Al-Waili and his team found that the honey mixture significantly reduced bleeding and relieved itching in patients with hemorrhoids. Patients with anal fissure showed significant reduction in pain, bleeding, and itching after the treatment. No side effects were reported. They concluded: “A mixture of honey, olive oil, and beeswax is safe and clinically effective in the treatment of hemorrhoids and anal fissure, which paves the way for further randomized double-blind studies.”