Pure honey and its benefits

Honey is a golden thick liquid that is produced meticulously by bees, it is widely available for purchase and is used to complement all kinds of food – honey on toast, honeycomb in chocolate, honey on waffles; the list goes on. However how many are aware of the health benefits of this sweet goodness?

Diabetes is typically considered to be a life long health condition that occurs when blood sugar levels in the body is too high. If left untreated this can escalate to further health complications. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, it has a very important role in our bodies. After one eats, the carbohydrates are digested and broken down into sugar, also known as glucose. Insulin helps to navigate glucose into cells where it can be used as fuel for energy. It may help to visualise that insulin is a key, which opens doors to the cells, allowing glucose to enter.

There are two types of diabetes, type 1 happens when the body does not produce any insulin. Type 2 is when insulin is produced but the amount is insufficient to control glucose levels. Fortunately, there is medicine available that can help control sugar levels. However, for it to be effective this must be combined with wiser lifestyle choices like adopting a more balanced Mediterranean diet with plenty of exercise.

Interestingly there has been studies conducted which have investigated the use of honey in lowering glucose levels in the blood. One study found that eating honey with anti-diabetic drugs like metformin increased insulin levels, which tends to be low in diabetics. Glucose levels was also found to be lower, which is the main symptom for diabetes. Additionally, it was concluded that honey had the ability to also reduce cholesterol and creatinine levels. High cholesterol can cause blood to thicken which can in turn lead to heart attacks and strokes [1] High creatinine levels usually indicates impaired kidney function. Both high cholesterol levels and kidney damage are known risks for diabetes [2]

Studies have found that eating honey reduced “bad cholesterol” known as LDLs and increased HDL cholesterol known as “good cholesterol” in healthy patients as well as those that had high cholesterol levels [3] [4] Triglycerides are the main constituents of body fat, elevated levels is a major risk factor of heart disease. Triglyceride levels tend to increase on a diet that is high in sugar. Multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels [5] [6] Studies have found that honey increases antioxidants [7] [8] Antioxidants are like little bodyguards inside the body that protect cells from disease. This antioxidative effect of honey has been linked to having blood pressure lowering effects [9] [10]

Honey has also been shown to protect against liver damage [11] commonly caused by diabetes [12] The use of honey could be beneficial for diabetics by helping increase liver functions and therefore in turn improve glucose levels [13] Significantly reduced elevated levels of liver enzymes including AST, ALT and ALP was also found [14]

Honey tastes sweet, it contains sugars so hypothetically speaking many would think that it cannot be good for diabetics. Although honey has the ability to increase glucose levels, evidence has portrayed that this increase is far less than the increase caused by other common sugars [15] [16] So why not eat honey instead, it tastes good and has various health benefits.

Although the mechanism by which honey decreases weight gain is still not fully understood, findings from some studies suggest that honey might reduce weight gain via modulation of appetite-regulating hormones [17] [18] Weight loss is a key suggestion made to diabetics to help improve their symptoms. It is also a general advice given to people, particularly for those living in the west where obesity is epidemic.

Upper respiratory infections are common, a cough is a popular complaint that causes sleep disturbances and is generally irritating to experience. There is evidence to suggest that honey is able to reduce cough and improve sleep better than modern cough syrups. A 2.5 mL dose of honey before sleep was found to have a more alleviating effect on cough compared to dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine which are common ingredients of cough preparations [19] Another study looked at the effects of honey or honey flavoured dextromethorphan preparation in children with upper respiratory tract infections. The results showed that significant differences in symptom improvement were detected between treatment groups, with honey consistently scoring the best [20]

The use of honey as a form of treatment during Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) time has been mentioned in various hadiths. It was narrated that a man came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and said, “My brother has some abdominal trouble.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said to him “Let him drink honey.” The man came for the second time and the Prophet (ﷺ) said to him, “Let him drink honey.” He came for the third time and the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Let him drink honey.” He returned again and said, “I have done that ‘ The Prophet (ﷺ) then said, “Allah has said the truth, but your brother’s abdomen has told a lie. Let him drink honey.” So he made him drink honey and he was cured (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 76, Hadith 7). This is a perfect example of the prophets confidence in the healing properties of honey but more importantly his belief in Allah. Placing ones faith in Allahs healing abilities will work far better than any medicine in existence, but this does not mean medicine should not be pursued. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “You should take the two that bring healing: Honey and the Qur’an” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 31, Hadith 3578). It was also narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said “Whoever eats honey three mornings each month, will not suffer any serious calamity.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 4, Book 31, Hadith 3450) This emphasises the strength of honey as a source of preventing disease.

Honey is delicious, although it can be argued that the research mentioned has its limitation, the potential of honey mentioned cannot be ignored. However, bear in mind it is not a miracle substance and like with anything its best to consume in moderation.

[1] Bogdanov, S. (2012). Honey as nutrient and functional food. J Bee Product Science, 15.

[2] Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., Wahab, M. S., Sirajudeen, K. N., Salleh, M. S., & Gurtu, S. (2011). Glibenclamide or metformin combined with honey improves glycemic control in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Int J Biol Sci, 7(2), 244-252.

[3] Al-Waili, N. S. (2004). Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose. Journal of medicinal food, 7(1), 100-107.

[4] Yaghoobi, N., Al-Waili, N., Ghayour-Mobarhan, M., Parizadeh, S. M. R., Abasalti, Z., Yaghoobi, Z., … & Saloom, K. Y. (2008). Natural honey and cardiovascular risk factors; effects on blood glucose, cholesterol, triacylglycerole, CRP, and body weight compared with sucrose. The scientific world journal, 8, 463-469.

[5] Bahrami, M., Ataie-Jafari, A., Hosseini, S., Foruzanfar, M. H., Rahmani, M., & Pajouhi, M. (2009). Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60(7), 618-626.

[6] Abdulrhman, M. M., El-Hefnawy, M. H., Aly, R. H., Shatla, R. H., Mamdouh, R. M., Mahmoud, D. M., & Mohamed, W. S. (2013). Metabolic effects of honey in type 1 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover pilot study. Journal of medicinal food, 16(1), 66-72.

[7] Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., & Ab Wahab, M. S. (2012). Honey: a novel antioxidant. Molecules, 17(4), 4400-4423.

[8] Gheldof, N., Wang, X. H., & Engeseth, N. J. (2003). Buckwheat honey increases serum antioxidant capacity in humans. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 51(5), 1500-1505.

[9] Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., Wahab, M. S. A., Sirajudeen, K. N., Salleh, M. S. M., & Gurtu, S. (2011). Differential responses to blood pressure and oxidative stress in streptozotocin-induced diabetic wistar-kyoto rats and spontaneously hypertensive rats: effects of antioxidant (Honey) treatment. International journal of molecular sciences, 12(3), 1888-1907.

[10] Khalil, M. L., & Sulaiman, S. A. (2010). The potential role of honey and its polyphenols in preventing heart disease: a review. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 7(4).

[11] Al-Waili, N. S. (2003). Intravenous and intrapulmonary administration of honey solution to healthy sheep: effects on blood sugar, renal and liver function tests, bone marrow function, lipid profile, and carbon tetrachloride-induced liver injury. Journal of medicinal food, 6(3), 231-247.

[12] Leeds, J. S., Forman, E. M., Morley, S., Scott, A. R., Tesfaye, S., & Sanders, D. S. (2009). Abnormal liver function tests in patients with Type 1 diabetes mellitus: prevalence, clinical correlations and underlying pathologies. Diabetic Medicine, 26(12), 1235-1241.

[13] Klip, A., & Vranic, M. (2006). Muscle, liver, and pancreas: Three Musketeers fighting to control glycemia. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 291(6), E1141-E1143.

[14] Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., Wahab, M. S., Sirajudeen, K. N. S., Salleh, M. S., & Gurtu, S. (2012). Hepatoprotective effect of tualang honey supplementation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. International Journal of Applied Research in Natural Products, 4(4), 37-41.

[15] Shambaugh, P., Worthington, V., & Herbert, J. H. (1989). Differential effects of honey, sucrose, and fructose on blood sugar levels. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 13(6), 322-325.

[16] Bahrami, M., Ataie-Jafari, A., Hosseini, S., Foruzanfar, M. H., Rahmani, M., & Pajouhi, M. (2009). Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60(7), 618-626.

[17] Nemoseck, T. M., Carmody, E. G., Furchner-Evanson, A., Gleason, M., Li, A., Potter, H., … & Kern, M. (2011). Honey promotes lower weight gain, adiposity, and triglycerides than sucrose in rats. Nutrition research, 31(1), 55-60.

[18] Larson-Meyer, D. E., Willis, K. S., Willis, L. M., Austin, K. J., Hart, A. M., Breton, A. B., & Alexander, B. M. (2010). Effect of honey versus sucrose on appetite, appetite-regulating hormones, and postmeal thermogenesis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 29(5), 482-493.

[19] Shadkam, M. N., Mozaffari-Khosravi, H., & Mozayan, M. R. (2010). A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(7), 787-793.

[20] Paul, I. M., Beiler, J., McMonagle, A., Shaffer, M. L., Duda, L., & Berlin, C. M. (2007). Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 161(12), 1140-1146.