How healthy is honey? Is honey healthier than sugar?

Real honey is one of nature’s truly remarkable products, containing a complex of sugars, which are naturally flavored along with trace amounts minerals, vitamins, amino acids and enzymes, and all this combined in one delicious and natural product.

There are more than 300 unique types of honey in the US depending on the area in which it is made and the flowers which are used as the bees’ nectar source.

For ages, honey has been used by humans as a natural and effective cure for a number of ailments, including for faster wound healing, for relief of sore throat and coughing, as well as for fighting bacterial infections, to name a few.
In fact, there is evidence, that Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician used honey for infected wounds and sunburn, and it must be noted that there is also mention of the healing properties of honey in the Bible, Torah and the Koran.

Just recently, some questions about the real extent to which honey is healthy and has healing properties have been surfacing though.

The main concern of those questioning the beneficial properties of honey includes the fact that according to them, 82% of honey’s weight is sugar, so its fructose content levels can vary in glycemic index ranges (from low to high). Such levels of fructose are believed to be unhealthy, especially for people who suffer from diabetes.

Two studies of the effects of honey consumption on people diagnosed with diabetes are being quoted, with one of them, including 48 diabetics who were fed with honey for eight weeks, resulting in the decrease of their total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, although their HDL cholesterol levels had increased, plus the HbA1c marker for blood glucose levels also had grown. The other study, which included subjects diagnosed with diabetes, hyperlipidemia, as well as healthy ones showed that honey didn’t have such an effect on blood sugar as much as dextrose or sucrose. Plus, honey was found to decrease the C-Reactive Protein inflammation marker in the human body. As it turns out, honey generally lowered the “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raised “the good” HDL cholesterol levels in the subjects.

Apart from that, the homocysteine blood marker which is associated with disease also decreased as a result of the consumption of honey.

A third independent research revealed that buckwheat honey can actually improve the antioxidant levels in human blood. This leads to a lowered oxidative stress, which is beneficial for the health.

As for the topical use of honey, there is some evidence that honey has strong antimicrobial characteristics, and it can actually help healing of wounds when used topically, and that it helps killing bacteria and keeping wounds uninfected.

A research performed by the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato, New Zealand has found that honey can help wounds which are not responding to antibiotic treatment, possibly because when it is applied topically, honey releases a tiny amount of hydrogen peroxide, which helps reduce the inflammation of the wound without causing pain or a burning sensation as would the standard hydrogen peroxide solution from the pharmacy.

Another research published in the FASEB Journal in 2010 reported that the honey can actually kill bacteria via a protein added by the bees to the honey, known as defensing-1, which if extracted could be used as a type of antibiotic for wounds, burns and other skin infections.

In the long run though, real and natural honey is a much better and healthier alternative to other sugary products, sweets and desserts.

Some publications have examined the pros and cons of honey, and have claimed that there could be some harmful effects from eating honey in certain cases. One of their arguments about the possible damage to the health which honey may have includes the fact that given its origin, honey contains a number of different bacteria including Clostridium – the microorganisms which cause botulism. While, the Clostridium content is so low, it cannot do any harm to a healthy adult, this bacterium could harm children, which are under the age of 1, and may cause the dangerous condition called botulism. Also, there is a danger of consuming honey produced from Rhododendron nectar, because it contains a toxin which can cause certain cardiac problems, irregular heart rhythm, chest pain and lower blood pressure.

Another possible harmful effect of honey can be experienced by people who suffer from pollen allergies, because in some cases honey made from pollen may cause allergic reactions.

Some known allergic reactions to honey include: asthma attack, coughing, skin swelling, wheezing, change of voice and even severe life-threatening reactions.

On the other hand, with somewhat older children honey has been proven to be a much more efficient cough relief and sore throat soother than some of the over-the-counter cough suppressants, by both being more effective in relieving the symptoms of the cough and sore throat, but also improving the sleep.

The fact is that the US FDA has no strict regulation practices for herbs and supplements, so there is no regulation on the safety of honey.

There has been no scientific proof of any harmful side effects of the consumption of honey by pregnant women, or breastfeeding mothers.

The recommended safe dosage for people over 12 months old is 0.5-2 teaspoons before sleep for soothing coughs, and for treating wounds – dressing with honey once per 24-48 hours.


  • Bahrami, Mohsen, Asal Ataie-Jafari, Saeed Hosseini, Mohammad Hasan Foruzanfar, Mazaher Rahmani, and Mohammad Pajouhi. “Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial.” International journal of food sciences and nutrition 60, no. 7 (2009): 618-626.
  • Al-Waili, Noori S. “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, no. 1 (2004): 100-107.
  • Gheldof, Nele, Xiao-Hong Wang, and Nicki J. Engeseth. “Buckwheat honey increases serum antioxidant capacity in humans.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 51, no. 5 (2003): 1500-1505.
  • Efem, S. E. E., and C. I. Iwara. “The antimicrobial spectrum of honey and its clinical significance.” Infection 20, no. 4 (1992): 227-229.
  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Honey as an antibiotic: Scientists identify a secret ingredient in honey that kills bacteria.” ScienceDaily. (accessed October 12, 2014).
  • Kurtoglu, Arzum Bahar, Recep Yavuz, and Gulsun Akdemir Evrendilek. “Characterisation and fate of grayanatoxins in mad honey produced from Rhododendron ponticum nectar.” Food chemistry 161 (2014): 47-52.
  • Bauer, Leonhardt, Astrid Kohlich, Reinhold Hirschwehr, Ute Siemanna, Herwig Ebner, Otto Scheiner, Dietrich Kraft, and Christof Ebner. “Food allergy to honey: Pollen or bee products?: Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting.” Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 97, no. 1 (1996): 65-73.

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