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Honey is widely known to contain various therapeutic and health benefits. In fact, people have been using it over 8,000 years ago, as depicted by Stone Age’s paintings. Today, people even go as far as claiming that honey is great for heart disease. But has this claim proved by science? I’ve done extensive research and here’s what I found.
Is honey good for heart disease? Studies showed that consumption of medical honey reduces the risk of heart disease in human participants, animal models, and susceptible healthy people. Honey is capable of regulating heart risk factors, including blood sugar, cholesterol, C-reactive proteins, and body weight.
Most research focuses mainly on the beneficial effects of honey on heart disease’s risk factors.
- How Honey Boosts Your Heart Health and Prevent Heart Disease? Backed by Science
- Rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds
- Help enhance cholesterol
- Help decrease triglycerides
- Helps lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation
- Contain natural sugar that prevents heart attacks
- Better sugar substitute that poses no health hazard
- Other studies related to the cardioprotective effects of honey
- How much honey a day is too much?
- Related Question
How Honey Boosts Your Heart Health and Prevent Heart Disease? Backed by Science
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world.
In 2016 alone, approximately more than 17 million people died from heart disease, an astounding figure which represents over 30% of global deaths.
Of this fatality, about 85% are caused by stroke and heart attack.
People with heart disease or have a higher risk for heart disease because of the presence of one or more risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or other established conditions, may require early detection and management through appropriate counseling and medications.
Over the past few years, honey has been subjected to various clinical and laboratory experiments by researchers and has found its place in modern medicine today.
Nevertheless, in the case of heart disease, most studies that were conducted in animal models, human subjects, and susceptible healthy participants were primarily focused on the effects of honey against the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases, such as hyperlipidemia and free radicals productions.
Let’s take a look at how honey promotes heart health and mitigates cardiovascular risks.
Rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition stated that aside from containing plenty of natural sugar (mainly fructose and glucose), honey comprises several bioactive substances, including flavonoids, phenolic compounds, carotenoid-like derivatives, vitamin C and other substances which function as antioxidants.
Other studies reported that a higher blood concentration of antioxidants, which lower the risk of heart disease development, is found in subjects nurtured with natural honey than in those fed with fructose/sucrose mixture.
Generally, darker honey contains more antioxidants.
Antioxidants combat oxidative stress, cell damage, and inflammation, all of which underlies many cardiovascular disorders and even cancer.
Antioxidants in honey have also been linked with a decreased risk of heart failures, as stated by a 2017 study released in the Pharmacognosy Research journal.
The beneficial impacts of dietary flavonoids on the cardiovascular system have been significantly reviewed.
Epidemiological data and studies proposed that frequent flavonoids consumption may provide protection against heart disorders.
A study published in the Physiological Research stated that the cardioprotective effects of flavonoids in coronary heart disorder primarily include antioxidant, anti-ischemic, antithrombotic, and vasorelaxant.
According to research, flavonoids reduce the risk of coronary heart disease via the following three mechanisms:
- Boost coronary vasodilation
- Decrease the platelets’ capability in blood clotting
- Prevent oxidation of low-density lipoproteins
Moreover, several studies have demonstrated that some honey polyphenols have a promising pharmacological role in decreasing heart disorders.
There are a variety of antioxidants and polyphenols present in honey, as identified in multiple research.
A 2010 study published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines stated that the polyphenols in honey with preventive role against heart diseases are as follows:
- Quercetin: Epidemiological studies reported that quercetin is linked with decreased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Its supplementation also lowers blood pressure in hypertensive rodents.
- Acacetin: A 2008 study released in the Circulation journal suggested oral acacetin as a potential atrium-selective agent for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
- Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE): CAPE is a phenolic active compound of honeybee hives’ propolis that decreases blood pressure and heart rate in rats. A study published in Cardiovascular Toxicology proposed that CAPE may exert an impact on heart rate through central parasympathetic control mechanisms. Another recent study released in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity journal showed that CAPE treatment could prevent HFCS-induced heart abnormalities.
- Kaempferol: A 2015 study reported that kaempferol enhanced the recovery of cardiac function, decreases the status of intracellular oxidation and myocardial infarct size, and prevents myocardial apoptosis induced by ischemia/reperfusion. Another study published in Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology demonstrated that the kaempferol protects I/R-related cardiac dysfunction.
- Galangin: A 2006 study by Lysias-Derrida showed that galangin has an antioxidative effect on endothelial tissues. Hence, it impacts lipid peroxidation and can prevent cardiovascular disorder. It also helps preserve other protective antioxidants, including vitamin C and E, as well as other flavonoids.
Nonetheless, more in vitro and in vivo studies and clinical investigation should be conducted to validate these constituents in medical applications.
Help enhance cholesterol
High levels of LDL cholesterol, which is known as bad cholesterol, is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disorder.
This cholesterol plays a critical role in atherosclerosis, which involves fatty buildup in the arteries that may result in strokes and heart attacks.
Surprisingly, several studies reported that honey could boost your cholesterol profile.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Ayub Medical College showed that eating natural honey can significantly lower the levels of bad cholesterols while increasing the good cholesterol levels in young, healthy individuals.
A 2018 study also reported the potential effect of natural honey in reducing heart risk factors, particularly in individuals with elevated risk factors.
In this study, 55 overweight or obese subjects compared natural honey to table sugar and discovered that the former cause over 5% reduction in bad cholesterol and over 3% increase in good cholesterol. It also caused a modest 1.3% of weight loss.
Another study involving animal models, which is released in the Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences, found that honey (unrefined Nigerian honey) significantly increases the plasma HDL level and reduces plasma LDL and total cholesterol levels, with potential benefits on risks of coronary heart disease.
Help decrease triglycerides
Elevated plasma levels of triglycerides are another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
These substances are also linked to insulin resistance, which is a key driver of type 2 diabetes.
Multiple research has associated frequent honey consumption with a lower level of triglycerides, especially when it is consumed as a replacement for table sugar.
One study published in the Scientific World Journal compared honey and sugar and discovered that patients who consumed the former have around 11% to 19% lower levels of triglycerides.
Helps lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation
High blood pressure or hypertension is another key risk factor in people with heart ailments.
A study released in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity reported that honey supplementation could significantly lower the elevated systolic blood pressure through the reduction of oxidative stress in hypertensive rats.
Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food reported that natural wild honey reduced venous blood pressure, which can decrease the heart’s preload and, consequently, may minimize congestion in the venous system.
One comparative study published in the Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research, which investigates honey’s effect on heart rate and blood pressure in healthy male and female participants, also suggests the hypotensive effects of honey.
Moreover, a study released in the International Journal of Molecular Science demonstrated the beneficial and apitherapeutic effects of Malaysian honey in rats with both hypertension and diabetes, which is another essential cardiovascular disease’s risk factor.
Contain natural sugar that prevents heart attacks
One new animal study which was carried out by a team of researchers from Washington University, and was published in Nature Communications, reported that a type of natural sugar in honey might prevent arteries from clogging.
This sugar is known as trehalose and can be found naturally in honey, fermented foods, and mushrooms.
A study released in Glycobiology described trehalose as a non-reducing natural disaccharide produced naturally by non-mammalian organisms, including insects, crustaceans, and some plants.
This sugar is thought to protect the organisms from environmental stresses, such as temperature and osmotic shocks, via biomolecules stabilization.
Compared to sucrose, trehalose has milder sweetness.
Senior author of the study, Dr. Babak Razani, stated that trehalose successfully enhanced the macrophages’ capabilities in removing plaque and unwanted substances in the arteries.
Macrophages are mature monocytes (a specific type of white blood cell) that aid your body to combat infection.
In the study, mice that did not get injected with trehalose had bigger plaques measuring 0.35 mm, while those treated with trehalose had plaques measuring 0.25 square mm, which corresponds to a reduction of about 30% in the plaque’s size.
Nevertheless, this plaque-decreasing effect was not shown by mice that had been treated with trehalose orally or those that received other types of sugar.
The researchers continue to find ways to allow trehalose to become a widely-available treatment for atherosclerosis, looking into other strategies to transform it into effective pills without the need for injection.
Better sugar substitute that poses no health hazard
Honey becomes the go-to sweetener for many health-conscious people as it is more natural than regular table sugar and artificial sweeteners.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggested that natural honey intake instead of artificial, refined sugars could bring potential nutritional benefits.
Several studies have also inferred that unlike refined sugars, patients with heart disorders can take honey without any worry of health danger.
Moreover, compared to other types of added sugar, honey causes a subtle increase in blood sugar.
In one comparative study conducted by some nutritional physiologists, male rats were given either sugar or South African monofloral sunflower honey.
The researchers discovered that over-consumption of sugar significantly increased the concentration of circulating substrates in the blood amid multiple pathological changes, which include hyper-insulinemia, hepatomegaly, and hypercholesterolemia.
Eating excessive sugar also considerably elevated fat molecules and visceral adiposity in the liver.
Rats fed with honey, on the other hand, did not demonstrate any of these heart disease’s risk factors, which in turn justifies the cardioprotective effect of natural honey and its devoid of health endangerment.
Other studies related to the cardioprotective effects of honey
A 2008 study by Najafi et al. reported that natural honey showed anti-arrhythmic and anti-infarct effects as pharmacological preconditioning agents on ischemia/reperfusion injuries in the heart of isolated rats.
The researchers proposed that the cardioprotective properties of the natural honey are due to its antioxidant effect, free-radicals scavenging properties, and presence of energy sources, such as glucose.
Another in-vitro study published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences demonstrated that chronic oral administration of natural honey generates potent anti-infarction and ant-arrhythmic impacts on rats.
How much honey a day is too much?
While honey is a natural compound, it is still considered as an added sugar, similar to table sugar, syrups, and juices.
Experts warn against consuming too much sugar.
Depending on a person’s discretionary calorie allowance per day, the recommended added sugars vary from 5 teaspoons or about 80 cal per day to 9 teaspoons or approximately 144 cal per day.
So, how much honey per day is too much? AHA proposed that the upper limit of added sugar intake, such as honey, is half of the calorie allowance. Hence, most American men should take no more than 150 calories of honey per day, while most American women should not consume more than 100 calories of honey per day.
According to the FoodData Central of the U.S Department of Agriculture, a tablespoon of honey provides almost 64 calories.
So if you’re following the AHA’s recommendation, you should consume only about 1 ½ tablespoons of honey in a day, assuming you do not take any other sources of added sugar.
To lower cardiovascular risk while obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight and meeting sufficient essential nutrient requirements, the American Heart Association (AHA), in its scientific statement in the 2009 issue of Circulation, encourages people to eat an overall healthy diet which is consistent with its 2006’s diet and lifestyle recommendation.
Is a spoonful of honey per day good for you?
Consuming no more than one and a half tablespoon of honey a day is good and within AHA’s recommended upper daily limit for added sugar intake. High-quality honey is rich in antioxidants and has been associated with several health benefits, including boost heart health, burns, and wound healing.
Is it good to replace sugar with honey?
While honey has a better reputation as a natural sweetener, it can also negatively impact health when used excessively. Dr. Castro from Mayo Clinic stated that both sugar and honey can affects blood glucose levels, and replacing sugar with honey in a diabetic meal plan has no benefit.