Honey Reduces Heart Disease Risk
Eating honey can lower the risk of heart disease, according to a preliminary study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food (2004;1:100–7). The beneficial effect of honey occurred despite the fact that two of its constituents (sucrose and fructose) are known to have a negative effect on heart disease risk factors.
Made by honeybees, honey’s sweet taste comes from the three sugars that are its primary constituents: sucrose, glucose, and fructose. A diet high in table sugar (sucrose) is known to increase the risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. Sucrose also reduces the levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and increases triglyceride levels. Fructose has similar effects to those of sucrose. Honey is a complex food; aside from sugars, it contains a number of potentially beneficial enzymes, amino acids, pigments, pollen, wax, and traces of nutrients from both bees and plants. It is known to have wound-healing and antibacterial properties, and some studies have suggested that eating honey can reduce blood levels of some markers that are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
A number of chemicals in the blood can be monitored to measure heart disease risk. For many years, blood levels of cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol have been used, and more recently homocysteine and C-reactive protein (CRP) have been added to the list of heart disease risk factors. People with high homocysteine levels have higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and some other conditions; homocysteine levels can be lowered by supplementing with vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. High CRP levels have also been shown to predict heart disease. Levels of CRP are increased by smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and chronic gum disease, and when there is inflammation in the body; antioxidants, vitamin E, and some medications, such as statin drugs, can lower CRP levels.
The current study involved seven small trials with between five and nine participants. In each trial, blood was examined before and after drinking solutions containing honey, glucose, and artificial honey (approximately half glucose and half fructose). The solutions used in each trial contained between 1 and 3 ounces of honey, glucose, or glucose and fructose. Healthy people experienced an immediate slight decrease in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels after drinking the honey solution but not after glucose and artificial honey solutions. This trend persisted in healthy people drinking the honey solution for 15 days, after which HDL cholesterol levels rose and homocysteine levels dropped. The effect of taking the honey solution every day for fifteen days was even more pronounced in people with high cholesterol: total cholesterol levels dropped by 8%, LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 11%, and CRP levels dropped by 57%.
The results of this study suggest that honey may have a unique positive effect on risk factors for heart disease. In a relatively short time, people with high cholesterol taking honey experienced modest reductions in cholesterol levels, and, perhaps more importantly, dramatic reductions in CRP. It appears that CRP might be as important a risk factor for heart disease as cholesterol, and that the benefits of using statin medications might have more to do with their ability to lower CRP levels than their effect on cholesterol levels. Thus, while there is a good deal of evidence that eating refined sugars such as sucrose and fructose may increase the risk of heart disease, this study suggests that eating honey is not only safe, but may actually be good for the heart. Despite its possible benefits, one should be careful not to overdo it as eating too much honey would add extra calories, potentially leading to obesity.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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