Is There a Honey Effect?

From the ancient art of hive-making to its modern day resurgence in wellness culture, honey has become a popular natural sweetener alongside alternatives like agave nectar, maple syrup and coconut sugar. While these healthy-seeming swaps may help reduce one’s consumption of refined sugar, only pure honey contains the antioxidants that are believed to give it its beneficial health effects. Aside from promoting the production of serotonin and the release of other neurotransmitters, honey is said to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, lower blood glucose levels, and improve insulin resistance. In addition, it is known to support the immune system, regulate gastrointestinal health and promote cardiovascular health.

According to studies, phenolic compounds in honey are responsible for its strong antioxidant properties which have been shown to be capable of inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells and causing apoptosis. It has also been found to have antibacterial activity in various bacteria, including E coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella typhi.[47]

Honey can be used as a cough suppressant, but it isn’t as effective as the prescription drugs dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). However, a study using wildflower honey showed that buckwheat honey was more effective than a placebo in reducing nighttime coughing and improving sleep in children with respiratory infections. Similar findings were reported by studies using wildflower, eucalyptus and labiatae honeys.

The aforementioned properties of honey are due to its unique chemistry and composition which consists of water, carbohydrates and phenolic compounds. The ratio of sugars to water in honey varies according to floral type and the total amount of mono-, di- and tri-saccharides is between 60 and 95%. This carbohydrate content is also linked to honey’s antioxidant property.

In vitro experiments have shown that honey has antioxidant properties in terms of preventing and slowing down oxidative damage to human leukemia cells, hepatocellular carcinoma cells, pancreatic cancer cells, oral cancer cells (squamous cell carcinoma), skin cancer cells (melanoma) and breast cancer cells. It has also been found to inhibit the growth of melanoma cells by inducing apoptosis and changing the cell cycle.

Honey has been shown to be more effective than table salt in lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels, but additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness of honey as a heart disease treatment. Interestingly, there are many trace elements found in honey such as silicon, rubidium, vanadium and zirconium. However, some heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic are also present in honey. This is probably because the bees collect these metals from the environment as they gather nectar from flowers.