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Reconsidering Honey

July 12, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

At this very moment, my opinion about honey is in a profound state of flux. On the one hand, I’m well aware that honey contains a relatively high percentage of fructose – a form of sugar that has increasingly been linked to adverse health consequences, such as fatty liver disease and obesity. But, why is it that so many learned, holistic advocates recommend it and use it in recipes? I believe I’ve figured out the reason why and have now come to terms with the rightful place honey ought to hold in my own diet.

In nature, individual components of foods and medicinal plants rarely compare to the sum of their parts. As ironic as that may seem, natural foods and supplements are almost always more complicated than over-the-counter or prescription medications. My basis for this steadfast assertion is that in nature, hundreds and sometimes thousands of chemicals can be identified in any given fruit, herb or vegetable. The majority of synthetic medications only contain a solitary chemical created in a laboratory setting. If you apply this philosophy to honey, you can readily understand why it is so much more than just fructose. Point in fact, health promoting substances, including various antioxidants (caffeic acid, luteolin, quercetin, etc.) and prebiotics (oligosacharides) have also been identified in honeys from around the world.

Anytime a concentrated sugar source is evaluated, diabetes, heart disease and overweight ought to factor into the discussion. And, that is what’s most intriguing about the published research on honey and human health. Studies indicate that adding honey to the diet of diabetics (including type 1 diabetics) and healthy adults tends to lower fasting blood sugar, body fat and weight, insulin and a host of other cardiovascular risk markers, such as C-reactive protein, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Honey has also been shown to increase plasma antioxidant levels which may discourage the development and progression of chronic and degenerative diseases. One exception to my current optimism about honey is that daily use can increase long term blood sugar or hemoglobin A(1C) in type 2 diabetics. This is an important consideration and suggests that honey should only be used in a limited capacity in this at-risk population.

On my list of preferred sweeteners, honey ranks below coconut sugar, dates, luo han guo (monk fruit), maple syrup and stevia. I think using small amounts of honey in wholesome recipes, as a natural cough remedy and for (topical) wound healing is indicated and supported in the medical literature. However, I wouldn’t advise most people to go out of their way to add honey to their daily menu plan. As always, I think it’s preferable to find sources of sweetness in nutrient dense, whole foods. I’m talking almonds, apples, berries, cherries, coconuts, kiwis, pecans and other low glycemic candidates. Sound boring? At first it may be. There! I’ve admitted it! But, I’ve seen time and time again that ones taste for intense sweetness mellows as you back away from refined sugar and artificial sugar substitutes. If interested, give this a try. It really does work and it really is worth it.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Fructose Might Contribute to the Hypoglycemic Effect of Honey (link)

Study 2 - Oligosaccharides Might Contribute to the Antidiabetic Effect of Honey(link)

Study 3 - Honey – A Novel Antidiabetic Agent (link)

Study 4 - Metabolic Effects of Honey in Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized (link)

Study 5 - Subjects with Impaired Glucose Tolerance Exhibit a High Degree of(link)

Study 6 – Natural Honey Lowers Plasma Glucose, C-Reactive Protein (link)

Study 7 – Effects of Natural Honey Consumption in Diabetic Patients: An 8-Week (link)

Study 8 - Honey: A Novel Antioxidant (link)

Study 9 - Honey w/ High Levels of Antioxidants Can Provide Protection to Healthy (link)

Study 10 - Natural Honey & Cardiovascular Risk Factors; Effects on Blood Glucose (link)

Dietary Maple Sap May Improve Bone Density in Mice

Source: Int J Biol Sci. 2012;8(6):913-34. (link)

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6 Comments & Updates to “Reconsidering Honey”

  1. charles grashow Says:

    I usually add a teaspoon of honey to my pwo shake

  2. Nadia Says:

    If honey contain too much fructose, you can try bee related product like bee pollen or propolis which have many benefits but doesn’t have sugar on it ;)

  3. JP Says:

    Hi Nadia,

    Bee pollen and propolis would not present the same issue with regard to fructose. However, pollen and propolis can’t be used as sweeteners. So, while they’re both bee byproducts and do possess some therapeutic potential, they’re really quite separate in their utility.

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Update: The (mostly unfavorable) health effects of a popular combination – honey and vinegar …

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336993/

    Int J Prev Med. 2014 Dec;5(12):1608-15.

    Effect of honey vinegar syrup on blood sugar and lipid profile in healthy subjects.

    The impact of honey or vinegar on several metabolic abnormalities has been studied separately, a mixture of these two ingredients known as honey vinegar syrup (HVS) has not been investigated previously so far. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of HVS consumption (Iranian’s traditional syrup) on glycemic parameters and lipid profiles in healthy individuals.

    METHODS: We conducted a 4-week, randomized, controlled, parallel study consisting of two groups of nonobese healthy volunteers. All subjects were asked to stay on their normal diet. Intervention group (n = 36) received a cup of HVS daily in the evening snack for 4-week (250 cc syrup contains 21.66 g honey vinegar). Assessments of fasting blood sugar (FBS), insulin, homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride (TG), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) were conducted at the baseline and after 4-week of study.

    RESULTS: We observed no significant effect of HVS on FBS, HOMA-IR, LDL-C and TG. A significant effect of HVS was found on increasing fasting insulin and HOMA-IR and reduction in TC level only in intervention group (Δ =3.39 P = 0.01, Δ =1.65 P = 0.03, Δ = -9.43 P = 0.005, respectively). Changes of FBS, TG and LDL-C were 1.83 mg/dl, -1.53 mg/dl and – 3.99 mg/dl respectively in the intervention group. These changes were not significant. An unfavorable and significant reduction in HDL-C level was also observed between two groups (Δ = -4.82 P < 0.001 in the intervention group).

    CONCLUSIONS: Honey vinegar syrup increased fasting insulin level and decreased TC level in the intervention group. HVS had an unfavorable effect on HDL-C level. Further prospective investigations are warranted to confirm these findings.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. JP Says:

    Update 07/10/15:

    http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/6/e007651.long

    MJ Open. 2015 Jun 24;5(6):e007651.

    Randomised controlled trial of topical kanuka honey for the treatment of rosacea.

    OBJECTIVE: To investigate the efficacy of topical 90% medical-grade kanuka honey and 10% glycerine (Honevo) as a treatment for rosacea.

    DESIGN: Randomised controlled trial with blinded assessment of primary outcome variable.

    SETTING: Outpatient primary healthcare population from 5 New Zealand sites.

    PARTICIPANTS: 138 adults aged ≥16, with a diagnosis of rosacea, and a baseline blinded Investigator Global Assessment of Rosacea Severity Score (IGA-RSS) of ≥2. 69 participants were randomised to each treatment arm. 1 participant was excluded from the Honevo group, and 7 and 15 participants withdrew from the Honevo and control groups, respectively.

    INTERVENTIONS: Participants were randomly allocated 1:1 to Honevo or control cream (Cetomacrogol), applied twice daily for 8 weeks.

    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was the proportion of participants who had a ≥2 improvement in the 7-point IGA-RSS at week 8 compared to baseline. Secondary outcomes included change in IGA-RSS and subject-rated visual analogue score of change in severity (VAS-CS) on a 100 mm scale (0 mm ‘much worse’, 100 mm ‘much improved’) at weeks 2 and 8.

    RESULTS: 24/68 (34.3%) in the Honevo group and 12/69 (17.4%) in the control group had a ≥2 improvement in IGA-RSS at week 8 compared to baseline (relative risk 2.03; 95% CI 1.11 to 3.72, p=0.020). The change in IGA-RSS for Honevo compared to control at week 2 minus baseline was -1 (Hodges-Lehman estimate, 95% CI -1 to 0, p=0.03), and at week 8 minus baseline was -1 (Hodges-Lehman estimate, 95% CI -1 to 0, p=0.005). The VAS-CS at week 2 was 9.1 (95% CI 3.5 to 14.7), p=0.002, and at week 8 was 12.3 (95% CI 5.7 to 18.9)¸ p<0.001 for Honevo compared to control.

    CONCLUSIONS: Honevo is an effective treatment for rosacea.

    Be well!

    JP

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 05/26/17:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28540272

    Iran J Public Health. 2017 Apr;46(4):545-551.

    Evaluation of the Effects of Local Application of Thyme Honey in Open Cutaneous Wound Healing.

    BACKGROUND: Clinicians have been searching for ways to obtain “super normal” wound healing. Honey is a traditional remedy for the treatment of infected wounds. We aimed to evaluate the wound contraction and antibacterial properties of locally produced Thyme honey on managing full-thickness wounds in vivo.

    METHODS: This experimental study was conducted in 2015, in Department of Pharmacology, School of Pharmacy, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran on 54 adult male Wistar rats weighing 200-250 gr, and ages of 3-4 months. A square 1.5*1.5 wound was made on the back of the neck. The rats were divided into control and two experimental groups. Additionally, the control and experimental groups were separated into three subgroups corresponding to 4, 7, and 14 d of study. The control group did not receive any treatment. For histological studies, samples were taken from the wound and adjacent skin. This tissue was examined using histological staining (H&E). Wound surface and wound healing were evaluated. Data were analyzed by using one-way ANOVA with post hoc Tukey test and (P<0.05) was significant.

    RESULTS: The macroscopic and microscopic evaluations showed that the percentage of wound healing on different days in the control and experimental groups were significant (P< 0.05).

    CONCLUSION: Using honey twice a day on open wounds will accelerate the healing process.

    Be well!

    JP

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