Friendly bacteria — Different varietals of honey possess a large amount of friendly bacteria (6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria), which may explain many of the “mysterious therapeutic properties of honey.”
Lactobacilli, which deliver protective and beneficial benefits to bees as well as humans, were not found in the bees’ honey stomach during the winter months when the bees under investigation were fed sucrose, indicating that certain bee-feeding practices may have dangerous and unwanted effects on bees.
Blood sugar control — Honey may promote better blood sugar control. Proper fueling of the liver is central to optimal glucose metabolism during sleep and exercise. Honey is the ideal liver fuel because it contains a nearly 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose. Fructose “unlocks” the enzyme from the liver cell’s nucleus that is necessary for the incorporation of glucose into glycogen (the form in which sugar is stored in the liver and muscle cells). An adequate glycogen store in the liver is essential to supply the brain with fuel when we are sleeping and during prolonged exercise. When glycogen stores are insufficient, 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 when less than optimal liver glycogen stores are available during sleep, leads over time, to impaired glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, diabetes, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Experimental evidence indicates that consumption of honey may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity compared to other sweeteners. The body’s tolerance to honey is significantly better than to sucrose or glucose alone. Individuals with greater glucose intolerance (e.g., those with mild diabetes and Type 1 diabetes) showed significantly better tolerance to honey than sucrose. In addition, the antioxidants in honey, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, frequently by a larger factor than can be explained by their actual amount, may be beneficial for diabetics and help to improve endothelial function (the function of the cells that make up the lining of our blood vessels) and vascular health.
Weight management — In a year-long animal study comparing the effects of sucrose, honey and a low glycemic index (GI) sugar-free diet, rats on the honey-based diet showed: reduced weight gain and percentage of body fat, decreased anxiety, better spatial recognition memory, improved HDL cholesterol (15-20% higher than rats fed sugar or sucrose diets), improved blood sugar levels (HA1c), and reduced oxidative damage.
Cough suppressant — Honey has been shown to be a more effective cough suppressant for children ages 2-18 than dextromethorphan.
Boosts immunity — Honey boosts immunity. Research conducted in several hospitals in Israel found honey effective in decreasing the incidence of acute febrile neutropenia (when high fever reduces white blood cell count) in 64% of patients. Honey also reduced the need for Colony Stimulating Factor (a compound produced in the cells lining the blood vessels that stimulate bone marrow to produce more white blood cells) in 60% of patients with acute febrile neutropenia; increased neutrophil count (another type of white blood cell), decreased thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and stabilized hemoglobin levels at >11 gm/dl (a bit low but way better than full blown anemic).
32% of the cancer patients involved in the above immunity research reported improved quality of life.
Wound healing — Several mechanisms have been proposed for the wound healing benefits that are observed when raw honey is applied topically. Because honey is composed mainly of glucose and fructose, two sugars that strongly attract water, honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that the growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited (these microorganisms thrive in a moist environment). Secondly, raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. Previous studies have shown that Manuka honey decreases the surface pH of wounds (so germs can’t survive) and can help keep bacteria out. While all honey does contain anti-bacterial properties, commercial honey is usually pasteurized and processed, which decreases its beneficial properties. Manuka honey is special because it produces a different substance called methylglyoxal, which has unique antibacterial activity.
Anti-bacterial — One antioxidant absent in pasteurized honey is pinocembrin, which is unique to honey and is currently being studied for its antibacterial properties. One laboratory study of unpasteurized honey samples indicated the majority had antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria found readily in our environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. Darker honeys, specifically honey from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health-supportive substances.
Free radical prevention — Daily consumption of raw honey raises blood levels of protective antioxidant compounds in humans, according to research presented at the 227th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, March 28, 2004. Biochemist Heidrun Gross and colleagues from the University of California, Davis, gave 25 study participants each about four tablespoons of buckwheat honey daily for 29 days in addition to their regular diets, and drew blood samples at given intervals following honey consumption. A direct link was found between the subjects’ honey consumption and the level of polyphenolic antioxidants in their blood.
Helps high cholesterol — In a series of experiments involving healthy subjects and those with either high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, honey has proved itself the healthiest sweetener. In healthy subjects, while sugar and artificial honey had either negative or very small beneficial effects, natural honey reduced total cholesterol 7%, triglycerides 2%, C-reactive protein 7%, homocysteine 6% and blood sugar 6%, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol 2%. (Like C-reactive protein, homocysteine is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.) In patients with high cholesterol, artificial honey increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, while natural honey decreased total cholesterol 8%, LDL cholesterol 11%, and C-reactive protein 75%. And in patients with type 2 diabetes, natural honey caused a significantly lower rise in blood sugar than either dextrose or sucrose (refined sugars). So, enjoy a little honey in your morning coffee, lunchtime yogurt or afternoon cup of green tea. Looks like a daily spoonful of honey may help your need for medicine go down.