Does honey help the immune system?
Manuka honey in particular has long been touted as a so-called natural antibiotic. Although not proven, there is preliminary evidence of it being used for sinus infections and MRSA in lab studies, with promising results. Likewise for the dental plaque which causes cavities. (1) (2) (3)
However those are all bacterial pathogens, which are quite different than viruses.
Bacteria are living organisms. Viruses are not. They are only active after infecting host cells. Bacteria can produce their own energy, while viruses cannot.
Therefore you can’t extrapolate the antibacterial properties of honey and assume the same applies to killing viruses like influenza or the rhinovirus, which is the most common cause of colds. What does the science say about those and other types?
The Jarrah honey and coronavirus hoax
First, let’s nip this rumor that’s going around.
There are some claims being made online about the Australian Jarrah honey, which is made from the Jarrah tree (Eucalyptus Marginata). Similar to Manuka, it has demonstrated some antibacterial and antifungal activity in research. (1)
However, any claims you hear about the COVID-19 coronavirus and Jarrah honey being used to treat, prevent or cure it are totally fabricated and 100% false.
In fact, whether it’s honey from the plant – or just something else about the plant – there’s no peer-reviewed medical research that’s been published about Eucalyptus Marginata and viruses of any type:
Perhaps the COVID-19 rumor started because Jarrah honey is a recently popular import in China, including Wuhan. The country imports “hundreds of metric tons” annually. But that’s for food, not medicinal purposes.
Research on honey and viruses in general
There are a few dozen pieces of peer-reviewed research which have reported honey having antiviral benefits. However, most of this is lab research taking place in Petri dish-like experiments.
For example, as published in 2014, Japanese researchers tested Manuka honey against the H1N1 influenza strain.
You can see how the virucidal activity was bolstered when the virus was pre-treated with 6.25 and 25 mg/mL of Manuka. Likewise for during and after infection, or in conjunction with zanamivir, which is an antiviral medication used for influenza type A and B. (2)
When it comes to using honey to treat viruses in a clinical trial, only 3 exist.
The most recent is from 2019. It was rather large, with 952 adults in New Zealand who participated.
Upon the first outbreak of a herpes simplex episode on the lips, they were randomized to receive either the standard medicine (5% acyclovir cream) or medical-grade Kanuka honey (10% concentration in a cream).
That wasn’t a typo. Kanuka is similar to Manuka plant and therefore, the pollen collected from bees are similar, but they are not identical honeys.
Both come from New Zealand. The main difference, in terms of constituents, is that only dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is found in Manuka, while Kanuka honey contains a unique arabinogalactan protein (AGP). (3)
Both treatments were applied to the lips 5x daily. The results were surprising: (4)
“There was no evidence of a difference in efficacy between topical medical grade kanuka honey and 5% aciclovir in the pharmacy-based treatment of herpes simplex labialis.”
A 2017 study also looked at herpes but since it was combined with acyclovir, it’s impossible to say what benefits the honey may have had. (5)
Likewise for the 2012 influenza study out of China, where they combined this sweet substance from bees with a laundry list of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs. (6)
Research on honey and coronavirus
This is actually not a scam. If you search the ClinicalTrials.gov database you will see there are 2 clinical trials being conducted which involve a honey treatment for COVID-19 coronavirus, also known as Sars-CoV2:
There is a 3rd listed but it’s not very relevant, since it’s being combined with a proposed turmeric antiviral combo.
As far as the two relevant studies, neither are using honey in place of the standard of care medicines and treatments.
Rather with each study, some people are receiving honey in addition to the normal medicines and lung treatments.
The 2nd trial on that list is also including black cumin (Nigella sativa) powder. Neither trial says whether they’re using raw honey, regular vs. Manuka, or other specifications.
They are taking place in Egypt and Pakistan, respectively. Results for these are not expected until 2021 and that’s if they even get completed. Most entered in the ClinicalTrials.gov database don’t get completed. (7)
To be clear, the above trials do NOT mean that honey can treat or prevent COVID-19. There’s no evidence it helps! Rather, these trials appear to be a “shot in the dark” type, which is fairly common and seen with many diseases and ailments.
Can honey cure viral infections?
There is no proof of that, for any type of virus.
While it is true there is one fairly large trial on herpes, it’s not enough to draw a conclusion.
Manuka honey vs regular honey or some other type, it doesn’t matter… the medicinal value has not yet been established, or even if it exist. That being said, the findings so far as intriguing nonetheless.