For the past nine years, Kelly Estill has consumed a pound of honey a day. It started after she was diagnosed with cancer.
Once a week, her son, Aleks, would collect pollen the bees brought in and mix it with honey produced the day before, ensuring Kelly’s immune system was boosted against whatever was blooming at the time.
“It helped with energy and prevented dehydration,” Kelly says, noting her organs never got depleted.
People have used raw honey and bees in medicine and nutrition for hundreds of years.
“Honey is the only food produced by insects that we can eat indefinitely without getting malnourished,” Kelly says. “It contains 4,000 enzymes and 2,000 proteins—and we spend no energy to digest it. The human body can survive on honey and water.”
Honey contains a range of compounds that act as antioxidants, including phytochemicals, flavonoids and ascorbic acid.
Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals, which are linked to a range of chronic health conditions.
The composition of honey varies depending on environment. The kind of blooms from which the bees gather their nectar and pollen determines the taste, color, and antioxidant and vitamin content of the honey.
Not all honey is the same, Kelly says, noting commercial honey often is created by mixing varieties. Honey derived from Brazilian pepper is particularly beneficial, offering antiseptic properties, she says.
In addition to ingesting it, honey can be used topically to help wounds heal faster and as a barrier to infection.
Mote Marine Laboratory, based in Sarasota, used honey on an injured sea turtle, with a layer of wax on top to make the salve waterproof, Kelly says.
She says honey is a natural antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent. When the sugars in honey—fructose and sucrose—are mixed with water, the honey breaks down into a number of components. One is a natural form of hydrogen peroxide, Kelly explains.
Because of its low pH level, honey can kill harmful bacteria and fungi. Because it is acidic, it helps release oxygen from a wound and promotes healing.
Raw honey may contain extra elements, such as bee pollen and bee propolis, which can offer additional antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Bees eliminate bad bacteria thanks to enzymes unique to bees, Kelly says, explaining the nectar is regurgitated by worker bees. Nurse bees further regurgitate the nectar before it is delivered to the cells in the hive.
“That’s why real (raw) honey never goes bad,” she says.
Kelly has personal experience with bee stings, which are used by some acupuncturists.
A small percentage of people are highly allergic to bee stings and can develop anaphylaxis.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I am on no medication,” Kelly says. “Bee stings are used for arthritis and a number of other conditions. You get immune to the stings.”
According to proponents of bee sting therapy, bee venom contains compounds with anti-inflammatory effects. By reducing inflammation, these compounds are said to promote healing and alleviate pain.
A friend of Kelly’s with Lyme disease, Missy, used to get up to 10 stings a day, along with regular infusions, and “she is treatment-free today,” Kelly says.
In European countries such as Slovenia, people breathe in the aroma of the hives. It is said to improve the immune system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, people should not give honey to infants younger than age 1 because of the risk of infant botulism and because honey is so potent. Honey is considered safe after age 1.
Kelly recommends looking for raw, unfiltered honey, since honey subjected to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees loses enzymes. She notes the higher the temperature, the greater the loss of beneficial components.
A sign of raw honey is crystallization after a few months of storage. Despite the grainy or sugar-like texture, the honey is still safe to eat and has the same taste, she says.
While Kelly has a virtually endless supply of honey, “2 to 3 tablespoons a day will do,” she says, noting her level of consumption would make most people sick because of the power packed in each spoonful.
All Abuzz About Bees
- Bees originated 13 million years ago, way before the dinosaurs.
- 24,000 species of bees inhabit the planet.
- A queen bee can lay about 2,000 eggs a day.
- A worker bee has an average lifespan of
- 5 weeks. It dies because its wings wear off.
- Bees flap their wings 230 times a second.
- During the larvae stage, a bee is touched by other bees more than 200 times a day.
- Bees only see blue and yellow.
- While most bees and wasps hibernate and are dormant during the winter, honeybees in warm Southern states stay active all year.
- A 16-ounce jar of honey requires 1,152 honeybees to travel 112,000 miles to visit 4.5 million flowers. That’s 97 miles per bee.
- A single bee produces 1 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
- It takes 10 pounds of pollen to produce 1 pound of honey.
- To produce 1 pound of wax, it takes 7 pounds of honey.