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Honey – A Treat or a Treatment?
Written by Dr Alexis Weidland (Osteopath)
So honey tastes great, but it’s just sugar right?
Well, yes… and no.
Honey is high in calories, containing a whopping 17grams of sugar, zero fats and minimal (0.1g) protein in just 21 grams of honey (1 Tablespoon) (1,2) .
Honey is made up almost entirely of carbohydrates, specifically sugars, it is a combination of fructose, glucose and maltose (3) . But while table sugar or sucrose (a combination of glucose and fructose) has a Glycaemic Index (GI) of 68, honey’s GI is 50 – still high, but a little lower (4) .
From the above information, you could be forgiven for thinking that honey is not all that great. Based on that, it is only a slightly better sweetener alternative to regular sugar.
Looking a little deeper
- While both honey and table sugar have a high GI, (unlike refined sugar), who’s Glycaemic Load GL is 28. Honey’s GL is around 16, depending on the source it is claimed even lower (2) .
- GL is a conversion of GI into a serving size, appropriate measure, although it is still an incomplete view of food and its effect on blood glucose levels, it may be more accurate than GI.
- According to Glycaemic Load, a measure less than 10 is low, between 10-20 is moderate and over 20 is high (5) . So while sugar remains a high GL food, honey drops to a moderate GL food, possibly making it better for diabetics (though not perfect).
- While sugar contains calories (from carbohydrates) and is void of nutritional value or health benefits.
- Honey contains:
- plant-based antioxidants (6,7)
- amino acids (22 of them)
- trace vitamins (including B vitamins [B1,2,3,5 & 6], A, C, D, E & K)
- trace minerals (about 27, including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium)
- 5000 enzymes (1,8)
- has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits (7) .
- Scientists believe that it is the antioxidants found in honey that are responsible for its
many potential health benefits (6) .
Did I say of health benefits?
Yes, you read correctly!
Honey appears to have been used since ancient times in medicine, and it is still used today, maybe you’ve heard of Manuka Honey? (3) .
So, while honey as a sweetener choice, may only be marginally better that refined sugar, as a medicinal aid, used in moderation within a healthy, varied, high plant filled diet, scientific research suggests it could be the perfect choice!.
8 surprising evidence based benefits of honey:
- Well, honey can be beneficial for the healing of wounds, especially in diabetic patients (7) .
- It is cardio protective and shows some promise in supporting those with diabetes due to its ability to reduce oxidation of LDLs
- Improves blood lipid profile – reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing HDLs
- Improves the widening and relaxing of arteries (supporting reduction in blood pressure and increase circulation even to the heart) (9,10,11) .
- Appears to reduce general inflammation (10,11) .
- Supports the immune system (15) and has shown great promise as being more effective than cough medicines in children (12,13)
- As well as in reducing medications for allergy suffers (14) .
- Because the compounds in honey positively impact the immune system, healing ability and inflammatory response of the human body internally as well as on the skin and this is further supported by the antimicrobial benefits of honey. This combination makes it perfect for treating skin conditions from acne and dandruff to psoriasis and eczema as well as skin lesions, burns and wounds.
1. WOUND HEALING
Honey assists in wound healing which is especially useful in diabetic wounds, due to complications and difficulties as a result of slowed healing rates in people with advanced diabetes. In fact, because honey has to ability to fight microorganisms, support healing itself via trace nutrients and antioxidants and reduce inflammation as well as keep the would moist, it is a perfect remedy all on its own (7) . It has the added benefit of still being effective against antibiotic resistant microbes as well as being cheap and accessible (7) . This is especially useful in diabetic wounds due to slow healing complications (7) .
2. CARDIO PROTECTIVE:
Honey contains a variety of antioxidants including vitamin C, flavonoids and others and research shows honey has potential pharmaceutical benefit in: fighting free radicals (one factor involved in heart disease); reducing the oxidation of LDLs in the blood (a major factor in plaque and clot formation); promoting vasodilation of the blood vessels (the opposite of which, vasoconstriction, is a major cause of high blood pressure and restricted circulation to the heart) (9) (Honey contains a variety of antioxidants including vitamin C, flavonoids and others and research shows honey has potential pharmaceutical benefit in reducing cardiovascular disease due to its antithrombotic (reduce clots), anti-ishaemic (increase circulation and oxygen), and vaso-relaxant actions (allows blood vessels to relax and widen). These actions assist in a reduction of clots and arterial blockages including from arterial constriction itself; reduce LDL oxidation thus further reducing plaques and potential clots; and reducing blood pressure via reducing artery resistance and plaque growths) – this is too technical yes? (9)
3. REDUCED INFLAMMATORY MARKERS
Studies show that C-reactive protein, a marker for general body inflammation as well as homocysteine, a necessary amino acid but in high levels is a potent free radical) both reduce with honey supplementation (10, 11) .
4. REDUCED LDL, CHOLESTEROL, TRIGLYCERIDES WHILE INCREASED HDL
Studies show the potential of honey supplementation to improve the blood lipid profile, beneficial for many things, most notably cardiovascular disease and diabetes (10, 11) .
5. AN EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE TO COUGH MEDICINE
In multiple studies, honey performed as well as cough medicine or better, especially in children (12, 13) .
6. ALLERGY SUPPORT
At least 1 study shows that pre-seasonal use of honey (made with the pollen of the plants that one is allergic to) can reduce use of allergy medications and days symptomatic days (14) .
7. SUPPORT IMMUNE SYSTEM
Honey contains polyphenols, a group of plant antioxidants that assist the body in flighting diseases. A study showed that taking honey daily, raise blood levels of polyphenols, showing that honey is a bioavailable form of such antioxidants as at least the polyphenol group of antioxidants (15) .
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- Gheldof N1, Wang XH, Engeseth NJ. 2002, ‘Identification and quantification of antioxidant components of honeys from various floral sources’, J Agric Food Chem. Oct 9;50(21):5870. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12358452
- Fahmida Alam,1 Asiful Islam, 1 Siew Hua Gan, 1 and Md. Ibrahim Khalil 2 , *, 2014 ‘Honey: A Potential Therapeutic Agent for Managing Diabetic Wounds’, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014: 169130. [Published online 2014 Oct 15]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216698/
- M I Khaliland S A Sulaiman .2010, ‘The Potential Role of Honey and its Polyphenols in Preventing Heart Diseases: A Review’, Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 7(4): 315–321. Published online 2010 Jul 3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005390/
- Al-Waili NS1. 2004, ‘Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose’, J Med Food. Spring;7(1):100-7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117561
- Majid M, Younis MA, Naveed AK, Shah MU, Azeem Z, Tirmizi SH. 2013, ‘Effects of natural honey on blood glucose and lipid profile in young healthy Pakistani males’, J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. Jul-Dec;25(3-4):44-7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25226738
- Paul IM1, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. 2007, ‘Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents’, Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Dec;161(12):1140-6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056558
- Shadkam MN1, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR. 2010, ‘A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents’, J Altern Complement Med.Jul;16(7):787-93. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0311. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20618098
- Saarinen K1, Jantunen J, Haahtela T. 2011, ‘Birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy–a randomized controlled pilot study’, Int Arch Allergy Immunol.2011;155(2):160-6. doi: 10.1159/000319821. Epub 2010 Dec 23. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21196761