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Health Benefits of Honey

Honey exhibits a surprising number of health benefits, many known for thousands of years. It is best known as an antibiotic, used to treat cuts and burns, but also relieve sore throats, suppressing coughs due to colds, as well as improve immune system function.

Understanding how honey is collected, processed and packaged is an important factor in determining the health properties of honey.  Only pure, unprocessed raw honey will provide you with optimal health benefits. This is honey that has not been heated beyond 95 degrees F. which kills healthful enzymes and probiotics, has not been micro-filtered which removes beneficial pollen residues, and has had nothing added for any reason.

Health factors by type or varietal of honey

Honey varietals also have different health characteristics. For instance Manuka honey from New Zealand and Ulmo honey from Chile have strong antibiotic characteristics. Darker honeys usually have higher antibiotic strengths. Analysis of the health benefits of honey is ongoing and we will likely learn of more desirable characteristic as research progresses.

Honey is an amazing health food!

Sugar (sucrose) replacement for diabetics
Honey is 1 to 1.5 times as sweet as sugar (comparing dry weight) due to its fructose content, so less honey is generally needed for the same amount of sweetness.

When compared with table sugar, honey has been recognized as having a number of beneficial health properties, including slower uptake into the bloodstream, a pharmacological action of reducing blood glucose levels and a high level of bioavailable antioxidants, all of which may mean that honey could be less harmful to health than sucrose in the diet [5].
When calculating carbohydrate intake for the day, the carbohydrate content of one tablespoon of honey is equivalent to one cup of chopped apple. Consuming honey will result in a lower blood sugar response than an equivalent amount of sucrose [6].

Provides energy for the liver and brain
Proper fueling of the liver as central to optimal glucose metabolism during sleep and before-, during and post-exercise. Honey is the best natural food to accomplish this liver fueling due to the nearly 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose found in honey. It is fructose that “unlocks” the enzyme from the hepatocyte nucleus that is necessary for the incorporation of glucose into glycogen in the liver. An adequate glycogen store in the liver is essential for brain fuel during the night fast and during prolonged exercise [7].

Reduces metabolic stress
An adequate glycogen store in the liver is essential for brain fuel during the night fast and during prolonged exercise. Without sufficient glycogen, the brain triggers the release of stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol – in order to convert muscle protein into glucose. Repeated metabolic stress from cortisol produced in excess when there are less than optimal liver glycogen stores during sleep, leads over time, to impaired glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, diabetes and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, some forms of cancer, and several neuro-degenerative conditions. All are conditions associated with increased oxidative stress [7].

Is an effective cough suppressant
Honey has been used for centuries to treat Upper Repository Infections (URI). sooth sore throats and relieve coughs. Honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which could explain its contributions to wound healing. Honey also soothes on contact, which may help explain its effect on cough as suggested by the World Health Organization.

In the latest study by Dr. Ian Paul at Penn State, on the effect of buckwheat honey verses dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications, researchers enrolled 105 children between the ages of 2 and 18 at a single university-affiliated physician practice site. On the first night of the study, children received no treatment. Parents answered five questions about their child’s cough and sleep quality as well as about their own sleep quality. On the second night, children received either honey, artificial honey-flavored DM or no treatment about a half hour prior to going to bed. Parents answered the same five questions the following morning. The randomized study was partially double-blinded: Medical staff did not know what treatment each participating family received when distributing their sealed syringe-containing envelope.

Across the board, parents in this study rated honey as significantly better than DM or no treatment for symptomatic relief of their child’s nighttime cough and sleep difficulty  [8].

Improves digestion and reduces many gastrointestinal disorders
The antibacterial properties of honey can be very effective in fighting bacteria, even against some strains of resistant bacteria and at low concentrations.  The use of honey for prevention and treatments of gastrointestinal disorders such as peptic ulcers, gastritis, gastroenteritis has been reported in various books and publications from Eastern Europe [10, 11, 12]. Many disorders are caused by the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Antibotics perscribed for H. pylori infections are expensive and produce side effects while killing beneficial bacteria. An in vitro study showed inhibitory effects of honey on H. pylori [9]. Honey has no side effects and can be eaten regularly.

Fresh honey with a moisture content above 18% contains Gluconobacter and Lactobacillus probiotics [17]. Honey also promotes growth of probiotics. Oligosaccharides, a constituent of honey causes an increase of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli and exert the prebiotic effect in a synergistic mode of action [13]. According to an invitro study on five bifidobacteria strains honey has a growth promoting effect similar to that of fructose and glucose oligosaccharides [14]. Unifloral honeys of sourwood, alfalfa and sage origin stimulated the growth of five human intestinal bifidobacteria [15].

Improves and restores the immune system
Fresh, unprocessed honey has been shown to stimulate antibody production [18].  A recent clinical study showed that using Life-Mel Honey, a medical grade honey, decreases side effects, including anemia, severe neutropenia, and thrombocytopenia (low platelets) of patients involved in chemotherapy [19].

Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol
Cardiovascular risk factors are reduced with pure, unprocessed honey. When compared to a control group using sugar, honey reduced total cholesterol (3%), LDL-C (5.8), triacylglycerole (11%), FBG (4.2%), and CRP (3.2%), and increased HDL-C (3.3%) in subjects with normal values, while in patients with elevated variables, honey caused reduction in total cholesterol by 3.3%, LDL-C by 4.3%, triacylglycerole by 19%, and CRP by 3.3% (p < 0.05).  Additionally it does not increase body weight in overweight or obese subjects [21].

Effective antioxidant reduces affects of aging
Honey reduces oxidative stress. Free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated in contributing to the processes of aging and disease. Humans protect themselves from these damaging compounds, in part, by absorbing antioxidants from high-antioxidant foods. Test subjects fed buckwheat honey showed an increase of phenolic antioxidants. The regular use of honey as a sweetener in common foods could result in an enhanced antioxidant defense system in healthy adults [16].

Reduces risks for some forms of cancer
Honey has been shown to be effective in controlling tumor growth and metastasis [20]. Honey has potential to become a supplement for cancer therapy.  In a paper given by Dr. Nik Soriani Yaacob (Malaysia), Associate Professor in the School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) at the 2nd International Conference on The Medicinal Use of Honey 2010 Malyasia, studies show that Tualang honey (from Malaysia) had anti-cancer qualities and significant cytotoxic effect (death of cells) on cancer cells cultured in the lab. Other phytonutrients such as caffeic acid esters contained in propolis and honey also exhibit anti-cancer properties [22].

Diabetic ulcers treated with honey
Diabetic ulcers uncured by oral antibiotics successfully treated with honey. A study is underway to validate findings [3].

Speeds healing  of first and second degree burns
A honey dressing for healing of burns has been used historically. With the increase of antibiotic resistant bacteria, it is gaining new attention as an alternative treatment. Unprocessed, undiluted honey has been shown to speed healing for first and second degree burns [1,2].

Reduce gum and periodontal disease
A study with manuka honey showed significant reduction of  plaque and gingivitis [4].

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References

  1. Br J Surg. 1991 Apr;78(4):497-8. Topical application of honey in treatment of burns. Subrahmanyam M.
  2. N Z Med J. 2009 May 22;122(1295):47-60. Honey in the treatment of burns: a systematic review and meta-analysis of its efficacy. Wijesinghe M; Weatherall M; Perrin K; Beasley R.
  3. http://www.news.wisc.edu/13739
  4. J Int Acad Periodontol. 2004 Apr;6(2):63-7. The effects of manuka honey on plaque and gingivitis: a pilot study. English HK; Pack AR; Molan PC.
  5. An Investigation of the Health Benefits of Honey as a Replacement For Sugar In the Diet. Chepulis, Lynne Merran. 2008.The University of Waikato  http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2612
  6. Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose. Al-Waili NS. J Med Food. 2004
  7. The First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health. Report to the Officers and Board of Directors of the Committee for the Promotion of Honey and Health. January 17, 2008
  8. Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Ian M. Paul, MD, MSc; Jessica Beiler, MPH; Amyee McMonagle, RN; Michele L. Shaffer, PhD; Laura Duda, MD; Cheston M. Berlin Jr, MD. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1140-1146.
  9. Trop Gastroenterol. 1991 Jul-Sep;12(3):139-43.Inhibitory effect of natural honey on Helicobacter pylori. Ali AT, Chowdhury MN, al Humayyd MS.
  10. L’Apitherapie. Cherbuliez T; Domerego R. Bruxelles: Amyris SPRL, 2003.
  11. Bienenprodukte in der Medizin. Apitherapie. Potschinkova P. München: Ehrenwirth Verlag, 1992.
  12. American Journal of the College of Nutrition, 2008, 27: 677-689. Honey for Nutrition and Health: a Review. Stefan Bogdanov, PhD; Tomislav Jurendic; Robert Sieber, PhD; Peter Gallmann, PhD
  13. The effect of honey on the growth of bifidobacteria. Ustunol Z. Report for the National Honey Board 1-8, 2000.
  14. Effect of honey on the growth of and acid production by human intestinal Bifidobacterium spp: An in vitro comparison with commercial oligosaccharides and inulin. Kajiwara S; Gandhi H; Ustunol Z, J Food Prot 65:214-218, 2002.
  15. Carbohydrate composition of honey from different floral sources and their influence on growth of selected intestinal bacteria: An in vitro comparison. Shin H.S; Ustunol Z. Food Res Int 38:721-728, 2005.
  16. Honey  with High Levels of Antioxidants Can Provide Protection to Healthy Human Subjects. Derek D. Schramm; Malina Karim; Heather R. Schrader; Roberta R. Holt; Marcia Cardetti; and Carl L. Keen Departments of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at the University of California. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2003, 51 (6), pp 1732–1735
  17. Microbiology of Ripening Honey.T. RUIZ-ARGUESO; A. RODRIGUEZ-NAVARRO. Cdtedra de Microbiologia, Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros Agr6nomos,Madrid-3, Spain. Received for publication 7 August 1975
  18. Effect of Honey on Antibody Production Against Thymus-Dependent and Thymus-Independent Antigens in Primary and Secondary Immune Responses. Noori S. Al-Waili, Afruz Haq. Journal of Medicinal Food. Winter 2004, 7(4): 491-494. doi:10.1089/jmf.2004.7.491. Published in Volume: 7 Issue 4: December 28, 2004
  19. Prevention of chemotherapy-induced neutropenia by special honey intake. Zidan J, Shetver L, Gershuny A, Abzah A, Tamam S, Stein M, Friedman E. Med Oncol. 2006;23(4):549-52.
  20. Honey-bee products in prevention and/or therapy of murine transplantable tumours. Nada Oršolic;, Svjetlana Terzic;, Lidija Šver, Ivan Bašic. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Volume 85, Issue 3 , Pages363 – 370. Copyright © 2005 Society of Chemical Industry
  21. Natural honey and cardiovascular risk factors; effects on blood glucose, cholesterol, triacylglycerole, CRP, and body weight compared with sucrose.Yaghoobi N; Al-Waili N; Ghayour-Mobarhan M; Parizadeh SM; Abasalti Z; Yaghoobi Z; Yaghoobi F; Esmaeili H; Kazemi-Bajestani SM; Aghasizadeh R; Saloom KY; Ferns GA. Scientific WorldJournal. 2008 Apr 20;8:463-9.
  22. Effect of caffeic acid esters on carcinogen-induced mutagenicity and human colon adenocarcinoma cell growth.Rao CV, Desai D, Kaul B, Amin S, Reddy BS.Chem Biol Interact. 1992 Nov 16;84(3):277-90.

16 comments to Health Benefits of Honey

  • Thank you for sharing the benefits of honey consumption. It is important to inform people of the difference between real raw honey and ultra processed sugar added honeys.

  • Honey has a lot of health benefits.I consider it a natural medicine.Everyone who has a health issue should consume honey.Not for nothing was used by our ancestors.

  • Serena

    Thank you so much for this lovely site!!!
    I love honey and I started to replace sugar with it (at least in part) in many traditional italian recipes: http://foodfulife.wordpress.com

    Not just because it’s healthier, but because many things just taste so much better! :-)

  • rachel

    Great website and information. Thank You! Used Manuka honey after my daughter spilt boiling tea all down her front – couldn’t get to hospital quickly and thought I must be insane to smear her in +20 manuka honey … but it worked … no blisters, no scars – in my mind a miracle.
    quick question … how much honey should one take for anti-biotic resistant H pylori??? :(

  • Hi Rachel:

    Thank goodness that it was so effective! There have been conclusive studies showing the effectiveness of different types of honey on burns. Specifically the speed of recovery of tensile strength of the skin in the injured area. You were lucky to have some on hand and to use it!

    The results of honey for treating H. Pylori are speculated to be similar to that against Staphylococcus. Here is a report that shows some types of honey used in a test to treat H. Pylori for ulcers and gastritis.
    Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2006 December; 6(2): 71–76.
    PMCID: PMC3074916 – The Antibacterial Activity of Honey on Helicobacter Pylori

    …Scott

  • tom tika

    Dear Scott
    Good day

    I live in Zambia and we have pretty honey around

    I love honey so much I have stopped taking sugar all together and even drinks mixed with lemon. I even apply it on my body with remarkable results

    Now my question can taking too much honey cause diabetes?

    Brgds

  • Hi Tom:

    Too much of anything is not going to be good for you Tom… even honey! I assume you are speaking of diabetes II which has been linked to genetics and lifestyle. Definitely one factor is weight. Overweight people are more likely to get diabetes II. High blood glucose level from carbohydrates are linked to it as well. Eating carbohydrates, including refined sugar and honey, causes a rise in glucose levels in the blood. This causes the pancreas to produce insulin to bring blood sugar levels down. In diabetic people, insulin may not function properly or isn’t produced in high enough quantities causing sugar levels to spike. The types of food that trigger quick production of glucose are called High Glycemic Index foods. Refined sugar has a GI of 60, glucose-100. Some honeys have lower GI of 30 to 40, but be aware these are average values. Any particular batch of honey can vary widely depending on exactly what nectars the bees were gathering.

    I would say if you were eating a balanced diet and not overweight, then eating honey instead of artificial and refined sugars would be a healthier thing to do. Honey has far more nutrients and beneficial enzymes.

    …Scott

  • Hello Scott,
    I am consuming 2 tee spoons of honey regularly in the morning & pls note i dont have diabetics.Is it ok to cinsume this amount of honey regularly?

  • Hi Thiru:

    Two teaspoons of honey per day is not excessive at all assuming this is part of a balanced daily diet.

    …Scott

  • Speaking as a big fan of all things honey-related, what a wonderful find your site is. Informative and interesting. Thank you!

  • Sharon

    How do you use honey on your body? It is sticky.

  • Robin

    Sharon, re honey for external use:

    Yes, it is, and your body heat makes the honey less viscous, so cover it with something to stop it spreading e.g. appropriate dressings for wounds; a band aid for acne; a body wrap for a full body honey treatment…

  • Penney

    Great website! So much information! My question for you is this: I am trying to be healthier by consuming whole foods and using supplements. If I want to take honey as a “supplement” for it’s remarkable health benefits, what would be a good daily “dosage”? I have purchased some from a local guy, so I’m anxious to see how it may improve my health! Thanks!

  • Hi Penny:

    I think the best way to use honey is not so much as a supplement, but rather as a replacement for refined sugar. Especially if you are healthy otherwise and have no specific issues. However, this is only one suggestion, there are many other ways to use honey for your health. For many more ideas and some specific recommendations, I suggest you pick up the excellent book about honey and health called, “The Honey Revolution-Restoring the Health of Future Generations – Amazon“, by Ron Fessenden MD MPH and Mike McInnes.

    …Scott

  • Kim Beach

    How much honey can you use daily to get the best benefits?

  • I agree that honey contains vitamins, minerals, trace elements and amino acids, and probably a lot more goodies, but those goodies are present in extremely small amounts. Don’t forget, it was meant as a food for bees and they do not have the same nutritional requirements as we have. It is the only insect produced food man eats.

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