holding carton of organic milk and bottle of honey

The Benefits of Milk and Honey Scientifically Scrutinized

[toc]Maybe it’s the wholesome image, unlike the perception of table sugar.

Or perhaps it’s because bees make it.

Whatever the reason, so many remedies claim that honey is the magic touch needed to work.

We have already debunked the garlic and honey scam, which is claimed to help you ward off infections, colds, and even the flu (and NO, it won’t help COVID-19, that’s another myth). Using it for weight loss is another alleged advantage, yet that too is not supported by any research.

“Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.”

That verse is from Deuteronomy 26:15, about the land promised to the Israelites and finally given to them by God. In total, this pairing of foods is found 21 times in the Old Testament of the Bible. (1)

What does milk and honey mean? It has been proposed that “milk” is in reference to land good for raising livestock, while the “honey” was about fertile farmland, a place where bees would naturally be found for getting their nectar, and in the process, fertilizing the crops.

Some interpretations broaden the definition and suggest that it may be a metaphorical representation of God’s blessings of abundance in general.

While it’s true that blessings can manifest themselves in many forms, the uses being claimed these days seem to be far different than what the Bible was talking about!

Today, here are what things people say honey and milk is good for:

Health benefits

  • Natural weight loss remedy
  • Helps you fall asleep faster
  • Clears chest congestion
  • Alleviates coughs and colds
  • Boosts production of probiotics
  • Builds strong bones
  • Soothes heartburn and upset stomach
  • Eases constipation
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Topically helps acne and scarring
  • Antimicrobial in skincare
  • Promotes hair growth

That is just a sampling of the advantages you will see touted on blogs and natural remedy websites. Now given that the phrase is even older than “bread and butter” it’s understandable why people are naturally intrigued by this pairing, but clearly some have taken the historical mystique and ran with it.

What the research says

When we search the PubMed database of nearly 30 million pieces of healthcare literature, we get over 300 results that mention both of these ingredients.

clinical studies and research on honey milk in the PubMed database

That sounds like a lot, but over 90% is completely unrelated. Many instances were merely in reference to Israel – e.g. more casual literature saying things like “from the land of milk and honey” somewhere in their text.

Most instance were studies involving multiple foods, where those two just happen to be among them but not necessarily together.

When it came to truly related research about these two ingredients being combined, here’s what’s out there…

Effects on body weight

Is milk and honey good for weight loss?

While some people claim it’s a drink for dieting, the science suggests that it’s a bad choice if you are trying to bust that belly fat. A standard 8 ounce serving of organic whole milk with 1 tablespoon of added honey equals 210 calories, with 8 grams of fat (including 5 saturated) and 27 grams of sugar.

nutrition facts label for floral and clover honey and organic milk from Trader Joe's

Drinks containing high amounts of calories and/or fat should generally be avoided during diet, since it’s easy to consume a lot of them, yet you don’t realize it since they’re liquid. As a meal replacement it might help you lose weight, but adding 200+ calories extra is not a good idea.

If you’re trying to gain weight, drinking honey and milk will probably help you achieve that goal. Although not clinically studied, reviews and testimonials online at places such as Reddit report weight gain over periods of weeks and months when using these ingredients on a regular basis. (2)

Sleep Remedy

man with insomniaNever have these two things been studied together for this purpose, but on a separate basis there is plenty of evidence to suggest it’s probably a bad choice and may actually cause difficulty falling asleep.

Drinking warm milk with honey before bed is touted as a natural sleep remedy due to the amino acid tryptophan, which is the same reason why turkey is recommended for sleep.

This is an urban myth because at 3.22g per 100g serving of milk, it’s poor source of tryptophan.

The same weight of raw soybeans contain 36.49g, spirulina comes with 57.47, and oats has 16.89, just to name a few better sources for comparison. (3)

Perhaps a glass of soymilk would be better!

Even if it were more plentiful in dairy, there is only research suggesting that tryptophan might help you fall asleep faster. Benefits of reaching deep sleep and staying asleep longer may actually be worsened with high amounts of tryptophan prior to bed. (4) (5) (6)

Furthermore, when other proteins are present, tryptophan actually has a more difficult time crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is why protein-rich foods (such as milk) can actually reduce the amount of tryptophan that makes it to the brain, when compared to consuming tryptophan supplements on their own.

Given the high glycemic impact of honey, even a small amount added to your glass of warm or cold milk will raise your blood sugar even further. That’s the last thing you want at bedtime, as a spike in blood sugar makes you feel energized rather than sleepy.

Alpha-casozepine, which is a protein unique to dairy products, is believed to have a calming effect on infant mammals feeding from their mother. It reportedly increases GABA activity in the brain, which is associated with anti-stress and relaxation. This aspect of milk might help you sleep better. However the concentrations you get from drinking it may not be a sufficient dosage.

Since there is lots of sugar and possibly unwanted calories in milk, you may be better off using Lactium supplements, which are a proprietary form of the alpha-casozepine peptide that has preliminary clinical research for use with mild insomnia. You can buy Lactium capules on Amazon. (7)

Cough and respiratory infections

Does milk and honey help sore throats, coughs, and respiratory infections?

As early as 1962, there is peer-reviewed medical documentation of using honey-sweetened milk for the treatment of infectious diseases, yet no human studies have been done directly related to viruses and bacterial causes of coughing. (8)

Also to be perfectly clear, contrary to rumors you may see online, milk and honey for COVID-19 coronavirus is a myth. There is zero research/evidence to support that. It CANNOT prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 infections.

There is one randomized study on the use of this mixture for coughing. Published in 2015 and conducted at a catholic university in Rome, 134 children with “non-specific acute cough” were split up and received either:

  • dextromethorphan, a common cough syrup ingredient sold under the brands Robitussin and Vicks DayQuil.
  • levodropropizine, an over-the-counter antitussive drug sold internationally but not in the U.S.
  • 90 mL of milk mixed with 10 mL (2 teaspoons) of wildflower honey, which equals about 3.5 oz combined.

Each of the groups used their treatments for 3 consecutive nights during their coughs.

The conclusion drawn by the scientists of the study was that milk with honey for cough “seems to be at least as effective as OTC cough medications” when used for unidentified causes of cough in the children tested. That’s based on 80% efficacy. versus the 87% seen in the groups receiving cough medicines.

graph showing results for milk and honey for cough vs. medical drug treatments

There was no placebo group used and the results were not blinded, so everyone knew who was getting what. Considering those disadvantage and being that it’s only one study with unidentified causes of cough, it’s intriguing but not helpful in telling us if this herbal remedy can help coughing caused by viral and/or bacterial infections. (9)

Good and bad bacteria

viral or bacterial infection growing in Petri dishThe following is in reference to in vitro research, meaning laboratory experiments outside the body.

In a study with reconstituted nonfat dry milk, it was mixed with either honey, sucrose, fructose, or glucose in a 5% concentration. That’s the equivalent of 2 tablespoons in an 8 oz. glass of milk.

All were mixed with a probiotic (Bifidobacterium bifidum) and monitored for 2 days at 98.6°F (37°C), followed by 28 days at refrigerated temperatures of 39.2°F (4°C). Out of all the sweeteners, it was found the probiotics grew best in the presence of honey. But keep in mind growth in a dish is far different than growth in your intestines, where probiotics live. The sugars would have been absorbed far higher up in the digestive tract. (10)

Does it promote bad bacteria, too?

When mixed with milk, it was said to “inhibit opportunistic bacterial growth better compared to samples stored without.” The reason cited (11):

“Due to the bactericidal property of hydrogen peroxide and its preservative nature, honey which is chiefly a combination of various sugars and hydrogen peroxide, can be used as a preservative of milk samples.”

Other research has found that there are 13 lactic acid bacterial species from the stomachs of honeybees that end up in the fresh, raw honey as they regurgitate the nectar. When isolated and tested for antimicrobial activity in the lab, they inhibit growth of Staphylococcus aureus (staph infections). (10)

When these 13 were tested against 20 different types of cow mastitis (breast infections) they were all inhibited by some extent. (11)

Antibacterial activity is clearly not coming from the dairy portion of this drink. When grain-based beverages were mixed with either water, cow milk, soy milk, or honey water, it was only the latter that showed “significant differences” in the levels of two tested bacteria. (12)

There’s zero research about viruses like influenza which causes the flu and the rhinovirus, which is a common cause of colds. There is no research on coronaviruses.

Lectins are a hot topic these days. It has been found that honey and breast milk both contain what are called mannosylated glycoproteins, which act as “powerful decoys” against the fructose/mannose-binding lectin PA-IIL. The lectins bind to the glycoproteins, instead attaching to animal cells and biofilm colonies o bacteria. (13)

Diabetes and blood sugar

diabetic man pricking finger for blood glucose testBecause it is a less-refined natural sweetener, honey is deceptively thought of as being better for diabetics. The truth is that the glycemic index for a 25g serving of white table sugar (sucrose) is 60 while the same amount of pure honey is 58, which means it’s only around 3% lower. It’s considered one of the highest glycemic foods, along with white rice, white bread, and pastries.

The sugar in milk products is not great for diabetics either, but they are considered to have only a moderate influence on a relative basis. (16) (17) (18)

Heartburn and gastric ulcers

Is manuka honey good for acid relux?

With or without milk, neither form of this remedy has been clinically evaluated. The most related study comes from a Turkish university which suggests that chestnut and oak honeys specifically are natural inhibitors of the enzymes urease and xanthine oxidase, both of which contribute to gastric ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori stomach infections. The inclusion of milk was not part of the research, nor was manuka flower. (19)

Bones and teeth

Cavities thrive in acidic environments, where there is food debris of sugars present to feed the bacteria. A university study looked at liquids frequently fed to babies; human milk, cow milk, cola, honey, and pure sucrose. It was said that…

“…cola and honey induced considerable erosion.”

Even more so than sucrose sugar! Milk was bad too, but only moderately. This would suggest that honey and milk are bad for you, at least when it comes to dental health. For babies it’s particularly dangerous. More on that below in the side effects section.(20)

In a rat study done at Purdue, honey supplementation was found to boost calcium absorption in a dose-dependent manner. The bad news was that this benefit disappeared with long-term usage, meaning it’s only a short-term advantage until the body adapts to the diet. No advantages for bones have been seen in animal or human studies. (21)

Antioxidant activity

1% and 2% milks have ORAC values of 40 and 50, respectively. Pure clover honey is only 160. To put into perspective how awful those numbers are, consider that Krispy Kreme donuts are also 160.

Worse yet, both of these ingredients seem to decrease the bioavailability of other antioxidants in your diet when you add them (22):

“The addition of milk, sugar and honey significantly decreased the antioxidant activity of tea in a concentration-dependent manner.”

up close photo of camel's faceThat being said, there was a study done out of Egypt where they poisoned the livers of rats and with some, they also fed camel milk and bee honey. That combo seemed to have protective effects, by downregulating cytokine genes which contribute to liver damage (cirrhosis). They called out the antioxidant properties as possibly being a benefit too. (23)

This supports other research about camel milk benefits and that yes, that source of milk has much higher antioxidant.

However when it comes to cow or even breast milk from humans, the claims that of antioxidant power are grossly exaggerated.

antioxidant honey

If you want one that has more, get this raw one on Amazon.

Hair and skin care

Many bloggers claim it helps a laundry list of beauty ailments when applied topically. Some of them we have seen repeated include:

  • Making as a mask for acne and blackheads
  • Appling on face or body every day for skin lightening and glow
  • Using on scars, including acne marks
  • Creating a lip balm for dry lips
  • Massaging into scalp for hair growth
  • Shampooing with it to straighten hair follicles

The problem is that none of these honey and milk uses can be found in scientific literature.

The closest thing out there is research from France, which suggests that it might “accelerate diabetic wound healing.” (24)

There’s a rat study out of Iran that is not 100% related because they added aloe into the mixture, but these three ingredients together as an ointment were said to (25):

“…induces cell proliferation, increasing the wound closure rate, blood vessel counts, and collagen fiber density in treated animals. It also reduced the wound secretions, inflammation, and scar formation.”

Side effects

The disadvantages of drinking honey and milk can include:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Increased flatulence
  • Worsening of allergies
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Intensified asthma
  • Infantile botulism poisoning

That last hazard on the list a surprise to many, though medical literature has clearly documented this risk of babies being exposed to Clostridium botulinum, which is a bacteria found in soil. In some case studies it was concluded that the only likely source of it in babies infected with botulism had to have been the honey in their diet. (26)

baby warning on honey labelFor this same reason, you may notice that many brands have a warning that you should not feed it to infants under one year of age. The CDC also warns against babies using it. (27)

That being said, neither honey or drinking milk is considered unusually dangerous during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Many often forget that milk is a hormone-loaded substance designed to grow and fatten up baby calves. Unlike phytoestrogens, which are plant versions of estrogen that are only somewhat similar, cows produce actual estrogen.

Some research has concluded that sexual maturity in children before puberty may be effected by consumption. Some even suspect it may be a contributing factor in the prevalence of male gynecomastia, more commonly known as “moobs” caused by breast tissue growth in males. (28)

lactose moleculeBecause mammals are not designed to drink milk past infancy, it’s not surprise that the prevalence of dairy allergy is high. It has been reported that around 25% of Americans stop producing the lactase enzyme after being weaned from milk as a baby and worldwide, that number may be as high as 75%, with Asians being particularly more likely to have a lactose intolerance. (29)

Considering that, the increase in gas and bloating with drinking or eating any form of dairy is a common side effect. When our bodies can’t digest the sugars in milk (lactose) they are broken down through fermentation, which inevitably leads to an increase in farting.

As previously pointed out, honey is actually one of the worst foods for tooth decay.

Although it remains somewhat controversial, many believe that milk and dairy may worsen asthma and allergy symptoms such as rhinitis.


Most of the claimed uses of honey with milk have little to no research. Ironically the most common uses – for sleep and losing weight – mostly have data to suggest they are bad for you, if those are your goals.

Interactions with bacteria is the most studied topic, yet it’s mainly relegated to research in the lab and since the honey component has been found to both inhibit and promote different types of bacteria, one could cherry pick data to make a case for or against its use.

Due to the calories and side effects of dairy, the science suggests that perhaps honey is best used on its own. If used as a substitute for refined sugars, it’s a healthier alternative due to the phytonutrients and slightly lower glycemic impact. Use in moderation.

For a natural sweetener that does not raise blood sugar and has zero calories, try monk fruit.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.