Honey Reduces Radiation-Induced Mouth Sores
People with cancers of the head and neck undergoing radiation therapy may reduce their risk of developing painful mouth sores by regularly ingesting honey, according to a preliminary study in Supportive Care in Cancer (2003;11:242–8). This novel treatment may also help prevent unwanted weight loss that often occurs in those receiving radiation treatments.
Cancer of the head and neck affects more than 500,000 people worldwide each year. Treatment for these types of cancer often includes radiation therapy, which can produce many harmful side effects, such as the development of painful mouth ulcers. The inability to eat and drink without pain is the most common reason radiation treatment is discontinued. Various attempts at preventing the development of mouth sores, including using a lead shield to protect the mouth and throat, spreading out treatments, and lowering the amount of radiation given per treatment, have been unsuccessful.
In the new study, 40 people with cancers of the head and neck (mouth, throat, thyroid, and others) were assigned to receive radiation therapy alone or radiation therapy with the addition of honey treatment for seven weeks. Those in the honey group took 20 ml (4 teaspoons) of honey 15 minutes before their radiation therapy and again 15 minutes and six hours following the treatment. The severity of mouth sores was monitored weekly using a scale from 0 to 4, where 0 reflected no symptoms and 4 indicated ulceration.
The severity of mouth sores in the group taking honey was significantly lower than in those receiving radiation therapy only. More than 75% of the individuals in the radiation-only group had grade 3 or 4 mouth sores, compared with only 20% of those taking honey. No one in the honey treatment group experienced grade 4 mouth sores, whereas 20% of those in the radiation-only group developed these severe sores. Weight increased or remained stable in 55% of those treated with honey, while only 25% of those in the control group had this benefit. This finding suggests the reduction in mouth sores leads to improved food intake and better overall nutrition.
Honey has been shown in several studies to be an effective treatment for burn wounds, surgical wounds, and mouth infections. In the new study, it appears to protect the lining of the mouth and throat from damage caused by radiation. Scientists also believe honey limits the growth of bacteria in the mouth that ordinarily exacerbates the radiation-induced mouth sores. While honey has been shown to be safe and effective in conjunction with radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, it is unknown whether honey can prevent damage to other mucous membranes, such as the lining of the intestinal tract or stomach, which are also prone to irritation or ulceration after radiation therapy. More research is necessary to clarify this issue.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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