Woman applying lotion on hand while wondering whether honey causes inflammation

Does honey cause inflammation?

Written on March 24, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Honey is a delicious and natural sweetener that has been used for thousands of years for its many health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants and has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.

What is inflammation?

First, let's define inflammation. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) offers, “Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s defense to injury or infection, and, in this way, it is beneficial. But inflammation is damaging when it occurs in healthy tissues or lasts too long. Known as chronic inflammation, it may persist for months or years” [1]. For example, “If a cut on your skin swells up, turns red, and hurts, those symptoms are signs of acute, or short-lived, inflammation. Feeling hot or losing function may be signs of inflammation from other harm to your body” [1].

Some inflammation, however, occurs in the body’s cells and tissues and is not visible from the outside [1].

Inflammation can be the result of exposure to environmental chemicals or toxins, exposure to allergens, injuries to the skin, exposure to germs (like bacteria, viruses, or fungi), and radiation [1].

Inflammation is also commonly associated with a variety of chronic (ongoing) diseases. In fact, “Chronic inflammatory diseases contribute to more than half of deaths worldwide” [1]. The NIEHS lists the following as illnesses that are associated with inflammation [1]:

  • Autoimmune diseases (ex: rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Cardiovascular diseases (ex: high blood pressure and heart disease)
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (ex: inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Lung diseases (ex: asthma)
  • Mental illnesses (ex: depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (ex: Type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (ex: Parkinson’s disease)
  • Some cancers (ex: colon cancer)

Honey’s healthy history

Believe it or not, humans have been using honey to heal wounds and diseases since 8000 years ago, “as depicted by Stone Age paintings. The ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans” [2].

The composition of honey

Honey “is a by-product of flower nectar and the upper aero-digestive tract of the honey bee, which is concentrated through a dehydration process inside the bee hive. Honey has a very complex chemical composition that varies depending on the botanical source. It has been used both as food and medicine since ancient times” [2].

Something interesting about honey is that its chemical composition and physical properties are dependent on the geography and purity of a sample. Honey made in one country, state, or city will not be the exact same as honey made in its neighboring country, state, or city.

Honey is mostly carbohydrates (80-85%) and water (15-17%), and the rest is proteins, ashes, amino acids, phenols, pigments, and vitamins [3].

Honey as medicine

Honey has continued to be used outside of traditional and has been researched heavily by labs and clinical investigators even in the last few decades. It has found its way into modern medicine. These studies have reported that honey has “an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria, some species of fungi and viruses,” and it has a high antioxidant capacity [2].

Furthermore, it “has cleansing action on wounds, stimulates tissue regeneration and reduces inflammation,” and it promotes healing, diminishes the size of scars, and treats eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, and colitis [2]. As an added bonus, it doesn’t have adverse side effects like other treatments do [2].

Inflammation caused by honey

So does honey cause inflammation? It is very rare, but some people do have allergic reactions to honey, which can cause inflammation. It is estimated that less than 0.001% of the population is allergic to honey [4]. Allergic reactions to honey range from cough to anaphylaxis after its consumption [5] and is more common in children than adults.

Apparently, research has not revealed any other instances other than allergic reactions in which honey causes inflammation.

If you are concerned about inflammation, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine if honey is right for you and can recommend other natural remedies that may help to reduce inflammation in your body.

Honey and children under age one

The CDC warns against giving raw or regular honey to infants under the age of one due to the risk of infant botulism; C. botulinum spores can be found in honey [6].


Honey can be a healthy and delicious addition to your diet. If you have concerns about inflammation or allergies, talk to your healthcare provider before adding honey or any other new food to your diet. With the right guidance, you can enjoy the many health benefits of honey without any negative side effects.

To check for inflammatory markers, try the Everlywell at-home Inflammation Test.

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  1. Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. URL. Accessed March 17, 2023.
  2. Eteraf-Oskouei T, Najafi M. Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2013;16(6):731-742. URL.
  3. Khan SU, Anjum SI, Rahman K, et al. Honey: Single food stuff comprises many drugs. Saudi J Biol Sci. 2018;25(2):320-325. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2017.08.004. URL.
  4. Aguiar R, Duarte FC, Mendes A, Bartolomé B, Barbosa MP. Anaphylaxis caused by honey: a case report. Asia Pac Allergy. 2017;7(1):48-50. doi:10.5415/apallergy.2017.7.1.48. URL.
  5. Karakaya G, Fuat Kalyoncu A. Honey allergy in adult allergy practice. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 1999 Sep-Oct;27(5):271-2. PMID: 10568878. URL.
  6. Botulism. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published June 8, 2022. Accessed March 17, 2023.
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