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The Risks of Honey

Posted in Botulism,Food Safety on October 17, 2018

People like to eat sweet things. There’s no shame in that. We sweeten our tea, we sweeten our cakes, we sweeten our cereals and peanut butter sandwiches. With scary information constantly streaming out about the dangers that sugar presents to your waistline and the threat chemically-made sweeteners have on your body, honey has taken its appropriate place in the arena of sweetness. Honey is generally considered one of the healthier options, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely void of risk as a food item. See the following list of risks of honey before you commit yourself completely to this delicate sweetener.

What is Honey?

While practically everyone has tasted honey, or at least seen it on a shelf available for purchase, few actually understand what honey is made up of. While we correlate it with bees and flowers, many don’t actually understand that it’s a sweet fluid that honeybees create using the nectar from flowering plants. There are approximately 320 different variations of honey, off of which differ slightly in color, odor, and flavor.

Honey is made mostly of sugar, though it also contains a healthy mixture of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc, and antioxidants, making it beneficial for many different ailments and nutritional needs. Honey can and is often used as a natural sweetener, as well as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial agent. It is extremely useful when ingested orally to treat coughs and applied topically to treat burns and promote the healing of wounds. Honey can be used to reduce the risk of heart disease, relieve gastrointestinal tract infections, prevent memory disorders, and more.

What Harm can Honey Do?

First off, if you’re allergic to honey, then you’re fully aware of the dangers it could present to you specifically and (hopefully) know to avoid it. Generally, however, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1. However, honey can actually present it’s own forms of dangers, especially when consumed raw.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), for instance, reported that a number of people from varying regions in their Mainland died after consuming unprocessed, raw honey back in January. Honey and honey products, including raw honey, comb honey, wild honey, and more, are gaining a lot of popularity, especially in recent years. However, it’s important to note that even though these products carry their fair share of specific health benefits, they also come with some intense risks aside from high allergen risk.

As foragers, honeybees can cover several kilometers in their journey to bring nectar from wide variants of plants to their hives. The kinds of plants honeybees can forage from have the potential to be poisonous. If the density of flowering poisonous plants is high, or if the number of insects that feed on these poisonous plants is high, all during a certain period, then the honey the bees develop has a high chance of containing many natural toxins. Grayanotoxin that causes “mad honey poisoning” is one of the most common results of eating toxin-filled, unprocessed honey.

Depending on the type and level of toxin contained in the honey, the symptoms of honey poisoning vary. Nausea and vomiting, however, are common symptoms and tend to occur at different levels of severity. If the toxin level is high and the resulting poisoning severe, then low blood pressure, shock, and even death are all within the realm of possibility.

Infants Under 1 Should Never Be Fed Honey

Due to honey’s unpredictability in the form of allergens, toxins, and more, babies under the age of one should never be allowed to ingest honey of any kind. This includes straight honey, honey products, and things sweetened with honey. Infants’ immune systems are not strong enough to handle the results should they have an allergy to honey or should the honey contain any kind of toxin. Why? Because of botulism.

Botulism and honey is no joke. According to our friends at Poison.org,

“Botulism spores can be found in honey; when swallowed, the spores release a toxin. Infants’ systems are too immature to prevent this toxin from developing. In fact, most cases of botulism in the U.S. are in infants.

When botulism toxin is absorbed from the intestines, it affects the nervous system. The most common symptoms in infants are muscle weakness – the infant feels “floppy” and the eyelids can droop; constipation, sometimes for several days; poor sucking and feeding; and an unusual cry. Poor feeding can quickly lead to dehydration. Muscle weakness can lead to breathing difficulties.

No one knows exactly how long it takes for symptoms to develop, but it’s thought to be about 3 to about 30 days. Over a period of a few days, a child can become acutely ill. Treatment in an ICU, including a respirator and feeding through an IV or a tube may be needed. If botulism is thought to be the cause of the child’s illness, there is a treatment available, but it takes a day or so for this unusual drug to be delivered to hospitals. Children usually recover, even without this drug, but receiving it can shorten the length of time that a child spends in the hospital.

There are other sources of botulism spores, especially soil, so that honey is not the only way that infants can be exposed. However, NOT giving honey in any form to infants is an easy, safe way for parents to limit the risk.”

Conclusion

Honey is delicious and understandably growing in popularity. It has a lot of health and medical benefits and should certainly never be removed from consumers. However, it also presents its fair share of risks! Therefore, when purchasing honey, one must always be sure to do so from reliable sources or apiaries. Be aware that grayanotoxin-containing honey often causes a burning sensation in the throat and any and all honey that has a bitter or astringent taste should be immediately discarded. People traveling overseas should pay careful attention to their consumption of honey, as grayanotoxin poisoning is far more common outside America.

And parents should never feed honey to infants less than a year old.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)