The jewel inside the glass case shines and glows with gold. We are in Crete, in the archaeological museum of Heraklion, and in front of us there is the famous Mallia pendant. A gold jewel that depicts two bees depositing a drop of honey in a honeycomb. But this is not just any jewel, it was the jewel worn by the king of Crete and represented his power and his majesty. Honey has, in fact, always been associated with divinities, the newborn Zeus was fed with honey and honey is also considered not only an exquisite food but a real source of properties for health. Several scientific studies in recent years have dedicated themselves to studying the action of honey, demonstrating what ancient knowledge had already understood. But let's try to understand better.
Honey is composed of 95-97% carbohydrates, contains a low amount of vitamins, including vitamin C and group B, and mineral salts, such as phosphorus, calcium, potassium, zinc, selenium, manganese and magnesium (Ahmed et al, Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2018). Honey is also characterized by the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols. In particular, all types of honey contain quercetin, kaempferol, ellagic acid and luteolin, while naringenin and hesperidin, which are other substances with an antioxidant action, are found only in some types of honey, such as cherry honey. Furthermore, in honey we find enzymes and all 9 essential amino acids, that is, amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own but must obtain from food sources. Thanks to these characteristics, honey shows antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antidiabetic and protective properties for the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and nervous systems (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017).
Honey, as mentioned, has anti-aging properties, counteracting free radicals. In general, honey that appears darker has a higher content of antioxidants (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017).
Antimicrobial action of honey
Honey acts as an antimicrobial. It has been observed that honey is able to counteract bacteria and fungi and that the honey with the most relevant antibacterial action is manuka honey (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017).
Honey, inflammation and the immune system
Honey reduces the degree of chronic inflammation thanks to the phenols it contains. Long-term chronic inflammation can weaken the immune system, therefore honey works by strengthening our natural defenses. This effect also occurs thanks to the fact that honey not only reduces inflammation but stimulates the production of T and B lymphocytes, which are cells of the immune system that play a key role in the fight against viral and bacterial infections (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017).
Honey and respiratory tract diseases
Honey reduces the level of inflammation, is antibacterial and antiviral. These properties have therefore been found to be useful in preventing asthma episodes but also in calming coughs and sore throats, even in children (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017 - Abuelgasim et al, BMJ Evid Based Med, 2021).
Honey and gastrointestinal problems
Honey also acts by protecting the stomach. In fact, it can help inhibit the action of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, one of the causes of gastritis and ulcers (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017). Not only that, given the healing action of honey this can help in the healing process of gastric ulcers (Ahmed et al, Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2018).
Honey, mood and brain
Honey also acts on mood. Several studies show that honey is anxiolytic and antidepressant. Not only that, it seems that honey is also neuroprotective, counteracting the action of free radicals, which in turn can cause neurotoxicity, aging and accumulation of beta amyloid proteins, all factors that could pave the way for neurodegeneration (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res, 2017).
Honey and metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which three or more of the following factors are observed, namely hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, low good cholesterol, visceral fat and hyperglycemia. In the long run, the metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It has been observed that, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action, honey can help prevent, or even reverse if already present, the metabolic syndrome, provided that it is included in a healthy and balanced diet and an active lifestyle. (Hashim et al, Molecules, 2021). For example, acacia honey was able to reduce weight gain and body mass index in the case of obesity. Honey in general contributes to reducing the waistline but also the lipids circulating in the blood (Hashim et al, Molecules, 2021). Not only that, honey quercetin also appears to be able to reduce blood pressure and to improve the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels and the heart (Hashim et al, Molecules, 2021).
Honey and diabetes
Honey, as we have seen, carries out various beneficial actions. Among these, there is also an antidiabetic effect. In fact, honey is able to reduce the complications generated by hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes (Bobis et al, Oxid Med Cell Longev., 2018). Not only that, honey also has a high fructose content and this gives it a low glycemic index compared to white sugar (Sadeghi et al, Int J Prev Med, 2019). However, long-term studies are still needed to evaluate doses, properties and warnings in case of already diagnosed type 2 diabetes. So, if you need to keep your blood sugar under control, always ask your doctor for advice and in any case do not overdo it and add honey only to a healthy and balanced diet.