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Healthy Tips

Bees and Honey: What’s the Buzz About?

Bees Matter, but Honey Might Not.

Bees and honey are having a moment. Decline in bee populations is in the news, and local honey producers are popping up across the country. Why should you care?

Bees Matter

If you like to eat, thank a bee — and a beekeeper. More than 75 percent of the food we eat depends on pollination from bees, butterflies and other creatures. But according to the World Economic Forum, about 40 percent of pollinators face extinction.

Hobby beekeepers are doing their part to help honeybees survive. Anesthesiologist Stanley Dee, MD; EMS Medical Director Michael Peters, MD; and Emergency Medicine Physician Jennifer Ron, MD, are all physicians from Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital who also share a passion for beekeeping as a hobby.

“Bees are amazing to watch, and their contribution to our food supply is incredible,” says Dr. Peters. “Over half of all fruit and vegetable crops are pollinated by honeybees. Their wild population has been declining due to disease and pesticides, and beekeepers can play a significant role in maintaining their population.”

Honey: Nature’s Miracle, or Just a Tasty Treat?

While it’s obvious that bees are critically important for growing food, what’s less clear is how their food — honey — benefits people.

Various studies have tried to demonstrate honey’s benefits for cardiovascular health, fighting cancer, improving brain function, treating skin disorders and reducing seasonal allergies. Some celebrate its antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, few studies are conclusive. Honey is difficult to study, as it’s an extremely complex substance, and hundreds of types of honey exist throughout the world.

Currently, only two benefits of honey are widely accepted by the medical community.

  • It helps heal wounds. Manuka honey, which is made from the pollen of the manuka tree, has been shown to be beneficial in wound healing. However, before you toss a jar of honey into your first aid kit, keep in mind that researchers state the honey should be sterilized before using and special dressings pretreated with honey should be used.
  • It soothes coughs. In a study of 105 children with upper respiratory infections, two teaspoons of honey was shown to be a more effective cough suppressant than dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in many cough syrups.

Bottom line? Be bee-friendly. While their honey might not save your life, the daily work they do is a key to your survival.