The bitter and the sweet

Apples and honey are one of the quintessential symbols of Rosh Hashanah, which symbolizes renewal and growth. Dr. Adi Klein, Director of Hillel Yaffe Medical Center’s Pediatrics Department, explains the main benefits of honey and why babies should not be fed honey until they are 1 year old.

Medical uses of honey were described even in antiquity. Clinical studies have also proven that honey has antibacterial properties for treating wounds and burns, coughs (although it is important not to consume it at a temperature higher than 40°C, because it becomes less effective), and it enhances the body's absorption of potassium and magnesium.


What's more, honey can also serve as an available source of energy during physical activity, as it contains fructose, which the body breaks down easily. Honey is also used as an ingredient in cosmetic preparations to treat acne and skin lesions. It gives the skin a radiant appearance.


“Despite its many benefits,” explains Dr. Adi Klein, HYMC’s Pediatrics Department Director, “for infants under a year old, honey can be especially dangerous, and therefore giving honey to children of this age is not allowed.


The risk is due to the bacterium Clostridium botulism that is produced by spores that may be found in honey and are responsible for producing a toxin that damages the nervous system, leads to poisoning and may lead to paralysis and death in infants and babies under the age of 1 year, and particularly between the ages of three weeks to six months,” said Dr. Klein. “Studies have shown that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it protects and delays the effect of the toxin on the baby,” she added.


Very healthy for adults, dangerous for infants. Honey


In the US, approximately 100 cases of infant botulism are diagnosed each year, 75% of them are related to consumption of honey. The first signs of poisoning by the bacteria in infants are serious constipation, difficulty feeding, drowsiness and poor muscle tone, faint crying, followed by exacerbation of all the above and even paralysis of the respiratory muscles.


Dr. Klein notes that the disease is diagnosed through clinical symptoms. In serious cases, the toxin can be identified through special blood tests or a stool culture specific for the bacterium. Supportive care is the primary component of treatment. In cases of respiratory therapy, artificial respiration is performed, and antibodies against the toxin are administered.


As noted above, in Israel, giving honey to babies under a year old is explicitly prohibited by the Ministry of Health. Similar prohibitions exist in the US and other countries.


With respect to toddlers eating honey, it is important to emphasize that even when heating honey or eating food cooked with honey - the heat does not destroy the spores and, therefore, even cooked foods with honey should also not be given.


“So, when it comes to honey, especially on Rosh Hashanah, when it is more accessible,” Dr. Klein said, “it is very important to keep honey or foods that contain it out of the reach of toddlers and to be vigilant for the symptoms described above.”


Wishing everyone a happy and safe holiday.

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