Honey as a treasure trove of Incredible nutrients: A White Paper!

Honey as a treasure trove of Incredible nutrients: A White Paper!

Fig1. Representative Image of a rock cut painting.
It’s not a surprise that ancient humans knew about honey since prehistoric times…for instance, in 2013, an interesting rock cut painting estimated to be about 8000 years old was found at abrigo de Barranco Gomez in Castellote, Teruel, Spain, depicting a human figure collecting honey from a hive in a tree. Similar paintings have also been found in central India. Similarly, ancient Egyptian Pharos and queens also used honey for myriad purposes…from eating, to bathing, to using it as antiseptic & antimicrobial agent for healing wounds etc. In fact, natural raw honey was found to be used as a successful embalming agent to mummify the bodies in their tombs.
Surely, we in India, also knew about honey. For example, Charak Samhita, the 2000-year-old Ayur-Ved text, says that honey works well in treating diarrhoea and vomiting, while it also describes many of its classes.
Surely, all these sources knew what they were talking about, but today, the information about honey and its incredible contents has exploded astronomically. Thanks to extensive research in this field, we now know things like never before. So, lets dive deeper into what honey has, and what it does to our bodies!

So, what exactly raw honey contains, and how do these unique contents help our bodies? What does research suggest? We will try to answer all these questions next.
Honey is considered a nutritious, healthy, and natural food, whose composition is highly variable depending on its botanical and geographical origin. It is mainly composed of a mixture of different sugars (80–85%), water 15–17%, and proteins (0.1–0.4%), but it also contains enzymes, organic acids, vitamins, minerals, and phenolic compounds to a lesser extent, which contribute greatly to its sensory and functional characteristics. The colour can range from white to brown and is largely determined by the presence of phenolic compounds and minerals.
Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties of Honey have been linked to honey intake which has contributed to increasing the interest in this food. Despite the fact that bioactive compounds implicated in those effects have not been fully elucidated, the beneficial effects of honey on human health have been attributed to its content of phenolic compounds.
" The main beneficial effects of daily raw-Honey-consumption have been observed on cardiovascular health in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects, also on glucose tolerance in healthy and diabetic subjects, on mucositis in cancer patients, on URTI (Upper respiratory tract infections) in children, and also on wound healing ”
So, what are these Phenolic Compounds? Phenolic compounds are synthesized by plants under normal and stress conditions and have several functions, such as attracting insects for pollination and protecting against pathogens and ultraviolet radiation, among others. Its content varies depending on the variety, origin, agronomic and storage conditions, harvest time, and climate.
In fact, recent research reported that values of total phenolic content (TPC) from different honeys ranged between 0.65 ± 0.42 and 84.17 ± 30.40 mg/100 g. Among them, the majority of the characteristics are flavonoids and phenolic acids. The following figure describes the kinds of Phenolic acids and Flavonoids present in the honey:
Fig2. Types of phenolic acids and flavonoids found in honey.
Phenolic compounds, in addition to being considered as bioactive compounds, can act as biomarkers of honey origin or adulteration.
Before we go on towards discussing the impact of all these unique compounds and acids of honey on human body, we have to understand a few points about human body, that I have called here “Notes on Human Health”, and only then we could appreciate what we would learn later;
Notes on Human Health”

When your body needs energy, it releases triglycerides. Some, Triglycerides are important for good health…but high triglyceride levels in your blood can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) often occur together. A person with diabetes is twice as likely to have high blood pressure as someone who does not have diabetes. When you have diabetes, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that help your heart pump.

Too much bad cholesterol in your blood can increase your chance of getting heart disease, stroke and other problems. Common medical terms for high blood cholesterol are Lipid disorder, hyperlipidemia or hyper cholesterol.

Fasting Blood glucose: Glucose mainly comes from the carbohydrates of the food that you consume. It’s the main source of energy for your body. The normal level of fasting blood glucose is 70 to 99 mg/dl. If your fasting blood glucose level is 100 to 125 mg/dl, it would usually mean that you have prediabetes…and there is a 50 % chance that you might develop diabetes over the next 10 years.

Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL): Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body…LDP cholesterol is also called “Bad” cholesterol…. high levels of Bad cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease.

High density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL cholesterol is the “Good” cholesterol…it absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver, which flushes out of the body. This lowers the risk, of heart stroke.

Fasting Blood insulin: Generally, a high level of Insulin may imply low blood sugar, Insulin resistance etc. In a health person, the insulin level is in proportion with the glucose level.

C Reactive protein: C-reactive protein (CRP) is produced by the liver. Its level rises when there’s inflammation, in your body. LDL cholesterol not only coats the walls of your arteries, but also damages them. This damage causes inflammation that the body tries to heal by sending a “response team” of proteins called “acute phase reactants”. CRP is one of these proteins.

Blood Pressure: Systolic (pumping bp) and diastolic (relaxation of the atrium) blood pressure; Diastolic bp increase is more diagnostically relevant (lower side, because it’s this that relaxes the heart)…

Glucose tolerance: Glucose tolerance is defined as the ability to dispose of a glucose load and therefore glucose intolerance is defined as an impaired ability for glucose disposal. Gold standard test is an Oral glucose load.

C Peptide test: A C-peptide test measures the amount of C-peptide in blood or urine. The pancreas release C-peptide when it makes insulin. The test can help determine the type of diabetes you have or how well diabetes treatments are working. It also helps diagnose pancreatic cancer, kidney failure, Cushing syndrome or Addison disease.  

Now since, we have gone through our "Notes on Human Health"...let's try to understand the positive impact that raw honey can have on various aspects of Human health.

Heart Health: Researchers have associated honey consumption with improvements of lipid-profile in healthy subjects. In this regard, a supplementation with 70 g/day of honey for 6 weeks significantly improved the lipid profile of young men (18–30 years) compared to subjects supplemented with sucrose. Specifically, triglycerides (TG), total cholesterol (TC), and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) levels decreased, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels increased between the beginning and end of the study. Those differences were also significant compared to the control group. A significant improvement in lipid profile were also demonstrated in a study conducted on young Pakistani men (20.13 ± 0.14 y). In the experimental group supplemented with 70 g/day of natural, unprocessed honey purchased from Ilyas Traders, Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, (Pakistan) for 4 weeks, a significant decrease in total and LDL cholesterol levels was observed, while the HDL level increased significantly.
When the two groups were compared, the increase in Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG) in the experimental group was significantly lower than in the control group, the decrease in Triglycerides (TG), Total Cholesterol (TC), and LDL levels and the increase in HDL level in the experimental group were also significant compared to the control group. In addition, oral glucose tolerance (OGT) was significantly higher after honey consumption than after glucose consumption. Some results also seem to indicate that a 6-week duration has better effects that a 4-week duration, indicating that a medium to long term daily consumption of raw honey would be much more beneficial to Heart Health. (Morales, Huertas, Perez).
Overweight or Obesity: Yaghoobi et al. conducted a study on overweight/obese subjects in which the experimental group consumed 70 g/day of Iranian natural honey and the control group consumed the same amount of sucrose for a month. Honey consumption resulted in a significant reduction in body mass index (BMI) and FBG. Moreover, honey significantly reduced serum TG and C-reactive protein (CRP) in subjects with elevated variables. There was also a slight reduction in body weight (BW) and body fat (BF), but these findings were not significant.
In addition, the intake of honey allowed for a significant reduction in TG and CRP levels in subjects with high baseline values while it non-significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL, TG, and CRP levels and increased HDL cholesterol in subjects with normal baseline values. This crucially indicates that raw honey could be really helpful for those people who have issues with obesity, elevated lipid profile or diabetes! Besides, even in healthy subjects, honey could have an inhibitive effect on the possibility of such health problems, arising in the future!
HDL levels increased in the experimental group while it decreased in the control group. Also, research suggests that the positive effects of raw honey consumption on a daily basis, is much more pronounced when the amount is more than 60 grams each day (3-4 teaspoons of honey each day). Although honey is sweet, for those people who measure their calories meticulously, the news here is not that bad, because even a 60-grams of daily dose of raw honey would approximately have just over 150 calories. This is much less than Ghee, that would have over 500 calories, for the same amount! Besides, the strong Satiety that Honey induces, on the other hand more than compensates for a little more calorie that it might have. This Satiety effect that honey has, also would contribute to diet regulation and would help in weight loss!
Diabetes and Honey: Wahab et al. carried out a study on healthy and diabetic post-menopausal women that showed that the intake of 20 g/day of Tualang sterilized honey supplied by Federal Agricultural Marketing Authorities (FAMA) (Malaysia) for 12 months had significant effects on lowering DBP (Diastolic Blood Pressure) and FBG (Fasting Blood Glucose).
In another study performed with type II diabetic subjects (57.2 ± 8.4 years), the experimental group was supplemented with increasing doses of Iranian natural unprocessed honey collected from Samans kandeh, Neka, Sari City, for 8 weeks, starting with 1.0 g/kg/day and increasing by 0.5 g/kg/day every 2 weeks until reaching 2.5 g/kg/day; while the control group was not supplemented with any substance. After 8 weeks of honey consumption, there were significant reductions in BW (Body weight), TC (Total Cholesterol), LDL, and TG (Triglyceride), as well as a significant increase in HDL levels. There was also a decrease in FBG (Fasting Blood Glucose) levels, although this was not significant. However, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels increased significantly in the honey-consuming group.
Research also suggests longer interventions with larger amounts of honey seem to have a greater effect on factors related to heart and vascular health in diabetic subjects.
High Blood Cholesterol or Hyperlipidaemia: Hyperlipidaemia is a condition in which body has abnormally high cholesterol, especially the LDL type “Bad cholesterol”. Al-Waili NS et al. conducted a study on a group of healthy subjects (25–48 years) and a group of patients with hypercholesterolaemia or hypertriglyceridemia (35–55 years). Consumption of 75 g of natural honey for 15 days significantly reduced total cholesterol and CRP levels in patients with hyperlipidaemia, as well as LDL levels but not significantly. However, the reduction in TC, LDL, TG, CRP, homocysteine, and FBG levels was not significant in healthy subjects. This is consistent with other findings about raw honey, that its consumption is especially useful in correcting elevated or deviated lipid profiles of the subjects, but in healthy subjects, daily consumption of raw honey may pre-empt any abnormal future deviations in the lipid profile!
Glucose Intolerance: A study on healthy men showed significantly lower increases in the concentration-time curve (AUC) profiles for glucose and a lower increase in plasma insulin after consumption of basswood (linden) honey compared to the other sugar solutions. They have also documented significantly lower increases in plasma insulin and C-peptide after consumption of natural or clover honey versus other sugar solutions in healthy subjects.
Significantly lower increases in blood glucose levels have been observed in subjects with type II diabetes after ingestion of natural honey and clover honey compared to the other sugar solutions. A study carried out with healthy and type I diabetic subjects also showed a significantly lower increase in blood glucose levels following Egyptian clover honey consumption, and a significantly higher increase in C-peptide levels.
These results indicate that replacing sugar with honey could be beneficial for both healthy and diabetic patients.
Satiety: In a study conducted by Al-Tamimi et al. on healthy subjects aged 24–57 years, the intake of 1.5 g/kg/day of a mixture of four types of clover honey promoted a significantly lower intake of energy, carbohydrates, and sugars compared to the sucrose-supplemented group. The inclusion of 42.7 g of pure clover honey in a 440-kcal meal showed a significant reduction in post-prandial blood glucose while lactate increased in healthy women aged 18–40 years that consumed the honey meal versus those who received a meal including 35.5 g of sucrose. These results are particularly useful for people who are looking for diet regulation targeting weight loss!
Cancer Patients: Studies conducted on cancer patients to test the effect of honey intake on various cancer-related complications, such as mucositis, weight loss, and xerostomia. In this regard, mouth washing with a solution of natural Baran-Baghro honey from Iran in water (1:20, v/v) for 4 weeks significantly reduced the severity of mucositis in adult patients with myeloid leukaemia undergoing chemotherapy and significantly increased the patients’ body weight. The same results were shown in another study carried out on patients with head and neck cancer receiving radiotherapy, who were treated with mouthwashes of a solution of pure and filtered thyme honey in water (1:5, v/v) for 6 months. In this case, it significantly reduced the severity of mucositis and weight loss, and significantly increased overall health and quality of life in the experimental group.
Cough and Gasteroentiritis: Several studies have linked the consumption of different types of honey (Buckwheat honey, Iranian, eucalyptus, citrus, Labiatae and Nairobi dark honey) with significant reductions in frequency, bothersome, and severity of nocturnal cough, as well as in the combined symptom score of URTIs (Upper respiratory tract Infections). Significant improvements in sleep quality have also been observed in children and parents. On the other hand, an early study carried out on children with gastroenteritis showed a significant reduction in recovery time from bacterial gastroenteritis by substituting pure honey for glucose in the oral rehydration solution.

"Children under 1 year of age should not consume honey due to the high risk of developing botulism (a rare illness caused by a toxin that attacks body’s nerves)! Otherwise, honey consumption is perfectly safe and healthy"
Having seen the effects of raw honey above, let’s try to discover the possible mechanisms of action through which raw honey may act.
Honey consumption can influence plasma lipid, glucose, and insulin levels through different biochemical mechanisms. The decrease in blood glucose may be due to the fact that honey has a stimulatory effect on insulin secretion and improves insulin sensitivity! Honey also increases the production of hydrogen peroxide, which has similar effects to insulin. In addition, it is possible that honey consumption stimulates nitric oxide synthase and the increase in nitric oxide (NO), in turn, stimulates insulin release since it contains NO metabolites. It has also been reported that honey consumption decreases plasma levels of some prostaglandins (Hormone like substances in human body, that typically affect inflammation, blood flow, vasodilation and blood-clotting, ovulation, menstrual contractions, defence and repair in the body etc.) that inhibit insulin secretion, constituting another pathway of increased insulin release. Moreover, honey contains zinc and copper, which play an important role in insulin and glucose metabolism. The high fructose content of honey may also decrease the hyperglycaemic glucose response by stimulating glucokinase (enzyme that signals the release of glucose) to deliver glucose to the liver.
Long-term glucose consumption (unlike Raw honey) can have negative effects on digestion, absorption, hormone levels, appetite, and liver metabolism, which can lead to the development of insulin resistance, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. These negative effects have not been observed with honey consumption; therefore, it is believed that other components of honey, such as antioxidants (e.g., phenolic compounds and some vitamins), may contribute to the reduction in the negative effects produced by fructose consumption.
Also, some characteristic flavonoids of honey, i.e., apigenin, luteolin, galangin-3-methyl ether, kaempferol, naringenin, rutin, quercetin, and myricetin have shown significant reductions in blood glucose levels and beneficial effects on dyslipidemia in animals. This may be due to the inhibitory effect of flavonoids on mammalian alpha-amylase, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of the alpha-glycosidic bonds of high molecular weight polysaccharides releasing glucose and maltose.
Available data also shows that phenolic compounds from honey are bioavailable and increase the antioxidant activity of plasma. The antioxidant activity of the phenolic compounds is attributed to their capacity to eliminate free radicals by donating hydrogen atoms, electrons or metallic cations, due to their structure (number and positions of the hydroxyl groups and the nature of the substitutions in the aromatic rings) and due to their binding to organic acids and sugars. On the other hand, phenolic compounds promote the maintenance and recovery of the balance of the intestinal microbiota since they can stimulate the secretion of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), glutathione reductase (GR), and peroxiredoxins that block reactive oxygen species (ROS) or stimulate endogenous defence system.
Raw Honey’s contents of antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and uric acid and its mineral content, such as copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc may also be responsible for the effects on blood lipids. These elements may increase the catabolism (breakdown) of fats, leading to a decrease in serum lipid levels. In addition, these antioxidants decrease the oxidized LDL. Among vitamins, honey contains niacin, which strongly inhibits lipolysis in adipose tissue, leading to a decrease in hepatic TG synthesis, and thus plasma TG levels. TG synthesis is necessary for the synthesis of VLDL (“Bad cholesterol” that contains more triglycerides, while LDL has less triglycerides) from which LDL in blood plasma is derived. It is therefore believed that niacin can also lower plasma LDL and total cholesterol levels. On the other hand, insulin can stimulate protein lipase, increasing lipid metabolism, which results in a decrease in serum lipid levels. The increase in HDL associated with honey consumption may be due to the fact that HDLs obtain cholesterol from cell membranes and other lipoproteins, such as LDL and transport it to the liver. As honey consumption decreases LDL, less HDL would be used to transport cholesterol to the liver, which may increase serum HDL levels, although further studies are needed to confirm this mechanism. In addition, the niacin content of honey may be responsible for the increase in HDL levels. Concerning phenolic compounds, the cardioprotective effect of flavonoids has been widely demonstrated through the reduction in blood platelet activity, the prevention of LDL oxidation, and the improvement of coronary vasodilation.
Increases in C-peptide levels following honey consumption in both healthy and diabetic subjects demonstrate that honey may stimulate both healthy and diseased pancreatic beta cells. It is thought that due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral and probiotic properties, honey may contribute to the healing of diseased beta cells. On the other hand, Panero et al. observed that higher levels of C-peptide in type I diabetic patients confer a statistically significant protective effect against the development of microvascular complications.
Furthermore, due to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium involved in its production, honey is considered fermented and consequently, probiotic product, which could reduce inflammation and intestinal permeability, and change the composition of the intestinal flora, these factors being implicated in the pathogenesis of type I diabetes mellitus. Moreover, the antidiabetic and hypoglycemic capacity of honey can be attributed to its antioxidant ability (thanks to its phenolic compound content), as the pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus appears to be closely associated with the presence of oxidative stress and ROS (Reactive oxygen species).
On the other hand, although the role of honey in weight loss is still unclear and more studies are needed to clarify how honey consumption may affect body composition, honey consumption has been associated with increased serum levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, β-carotene, uric acid and glutathione reductase, and the total phenolic content which results from phenolic antioxidants in the honey. These compounds appear to increase diet-induced thermogenesis (Heat production), and thus may be related to the weight loss associated with honey consumption versus other sweeteners.
The positive effect of honey on cough may be due to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects. In addition, some of the studies used dark honey, which tends to have a higher content of phenolic compounds that have been related to the antioxidant properties of honey, and thus may have contributed to the positive effects observed. As honey is a sweet substance that increases salivation and mucus secretion from the respiratory tract, it may have a demulcent effect on the pharynx and larynx, and thus reduces dry and unproductive cough. In addition, these secretions can improve mucociliary clearance in the airways through expectoration.
To conclude, Honey is an incredible natural edible resource, perhaps like no other. It’s incredibly helpful in maintaining our health, if consumed as raw and in right dosage. Various studies suggest that raw honey consumed in right dosage is just as important as consuming honey itself. We at BEETRIBE recommend a dose of at least 3 tablespoons of raw honey (50 grams of honey) each day, for optimum health benefits. Multifloral honey (Darker in colour) is obviously more beneficial to health, than mono-floral honey (Generally, lighter in colour), because it has more phenolics! Research points to ample evidence regarding significant improvements in health parameters like, cardiovascular risk factors, satiety, glucose tolerance, mucositis symptoms in cancer patients, URTIs symptoms in children, wound healing, etc.
I hope, this detailed information helps you realise the incredible nectar-ly qualities that daily consumption of raw honey brings with it, and further helps you in including raw honey into your daily diet.
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