Bees swarm around collecting sugar-rich liquids called from plants, which they then convert to honey in the beehive.
Harvesting honey has been featured in rock paintings of more than 6000 years ago. It was also recognised in ancient Egypt for its healing medicinal properties.1
Let’s learn a little more about this ancient source of goodness.
Composition of Honey
Honey is a remarkably complex natural liquid, made of at least 181 substances.2 The composition of honey can vary significantly, depending on what flowers are in the vicinity of the beehive. External factors such as season, environment and processing also make a difference to its composition. However, a typical batch of honey contains about 82% sugar, some trace minerals and vitamins, and a bunch of antioxidants.3
Honey has Antioxidants
Honey is rich in polyphenols, a class of pigments that give the vibrant colour to flowers, fruits and leaves, and the foods we eat.2, 4 These pigments have been previously described as potent antioxidants i.e. they reduce free radical damage to cells and other components in body tissue.4 Because these antioxidants are pigments, darker honeys like Buckwheat honey, are considered better than the lighter varieties.4 The antioxidant capacity of honey may even be amplified by a wide range of other compounds like peptides, enzymes and possibly other minor components.3Once again, the quantities of these vary with the source of honey.
Honey and Our Body
Antioxidants in the diet are associated with improved health and lower risk of diseases, like heart disease and cancer. Moreover, in a trial of 48 diabetics, those fed honey had lowered their body weight and total cholesterol while their HDL “good” cholesterol increased. But a marker of blood glucose levels, called HbA1c, also increased, which is not good.5And honey does raise blood sugar, albeit less than the table sugar we consume. Sounds contradictory? All it means is that, while there are health benefits associated with honey (probably due to the antioxidants), its consumption should still be limited due to its high sugar content. But you can always apply plenty on your skin! Honey can kill bacteria and speed the healing of wounds. A few types of honey from Australia and New Zealand (Leptospermum spp) are even marketed as therapeutic honeys, because of their powerful bacteria-fighting properties.1, 6
Honey and Our Immunity
Natural honey sometimes contains bits of propolis, a sticky substance that honeybees collect from botanical sources. It also contains a substance called methylglyoxal. Both of these are known to have antiviral and anticancer effects, and could perhaps boost your immunity.7-9 A small-scale study showed that honey increases the body’s percentage of blood proteins, copper levels and white blood cells that fight infections.10 This is building curiosity, because of its potential to treat immune system disorders like HIV/AIDS.1, 8
Hay fever is an allergic reaction caused by airborne pollen from flowers, grass, plants and trees. Honey can sometimes contain some pollen – but that may not be a bad thing. It is believed that honey rich in local pollen can acclimatise the body and prevent it from reacting to pollen. There is not much evidence to support the theory, but many people swear by it.11, 12
To ensure you get all these health benefits from pure, natural honey, keep a wary eye out for additives or added flavors.
All in all, it isn’t often that sweet treats are complemented with health benefits like honey is, so go on and enjoy it (within reason)!
1. Ratcliffe NA, et al. Insect Biochem Mol Biol 2011, 41(10): 747-769.
2. Crane E. Honey: A Comprehensive Survey. Crane, Russak, 1975.
3. Gheldof N, et al. J Agric Food Chem 2002, 50(21): 5870-5877.
4. Pandey KB & Rizvi SI. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2009, 2(5): 270-278.
5. Al-Waili NS. J Med Food 2004, 7(1): 100-107.
6. Lusby PE, et al. Journal of Wound Ostomy & Continence Nursing 2002, 29(6): 295-300.
7. Behbahani M. PLoS One 2014, 9(10): e108195.
8. Harish Z, et al. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1997, 23(2): 89-96.
9. Talukdar D, et al. Drug Metabol Drug Interact 2008, 23(1-2): 175-210.
10. Al-Waili NS, et al. ScientificWorldJournal 2006, 6: 1985-1989.
11. Choi J-H, et al. Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research 2015, 7(5): 513-517.12. Saarinen K, et al. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2011, 155(2): 160-166.