Honey, made by bees from the nectars of flowering plants, is regarded as a sweet, viscous liquid composed of glucose, fructose and other nutrients. It's been used as a therapeutic agent for a number of ailments, but the jury is still out on its usefulness in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
Read more: Good and Bad Effects From Eating Honey
Honey and Cholesterol
According to Johanna Contreras, MD, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai in New York City, honey is a better carbohydrate with a lower glycemic index (GI). "What we've seen in studies with animals is that honey tends to decrease the levels of LDL [the bad cholesterol] and raise the HDL [the good cholesterol]." she says.
But the human effects are not yet well defined.
In a small randomized study published in the July-December 2013 issue of the Journal of Ayub Medical College, 70 young men were given the same diet with or without 70 grams of honey daily for four weeks. Fasting glucose levels in both groups increased, yet it was lower in the honey group. Total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels increased in the non-honey group, while those in the honey group had a significant decrease, and their HDL increased.
However, another small but more recent study in the Journal of Nutrition, published in October 2015, compared the effects of consuming three sugars — honey, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — for two weeks at a time in 55 people (with normal glucose tolerance or impaired glucose tolerance). It found no significant differences according to type of sugar in the effects on glycemic control, lipid metabolism and inflammation. All groups saw increased triglyceride concentrations at the end of the study.
"In women there is a hormonal component, but those who tend to use honey have a lower glycemic index and, in the long-term, have lower cholesterol levels," says Dr. Contreras. However, she notes that she doesn't know whether this is exclusively because of their use of honey in their diet or other changes.
More robust human studies are needed to tease out any real effects or support recommendations.
Cholesterol is either made by the body or absorbed from the food you eat. This waxy substance is found in all the cells in your body and is instrumental in making steroid hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and vitamin D, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. In addition to making these necessary hormones, it also makes bile acids in the liver, which help with the absorption of fats during digestion, says Johns Hopkins.
Total cholesterol is what circulates in your bloodstream and is made up of: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as the "bad cholesterol" because it's the main culprit in the buildup of plaque in your arteries, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), coined the "good cholesterol" because it helps the body rid itself of LDL cholesterol, notes Johns Hopkins.
In addition to cholesterol, there's another fat, called triglycerides, that circulates in your bloodstream. This type of fat can be a source of energy, but when triglyceride levels get too high, the risk of heart disease increases, Johns Hopkins notes. When you consume excess calories, your body converts them into triglycerides that end up getting stored in your fat cells.
Honey is composed of several sugars as well as proteins, phenolic acids, flavonoids, enzymes, amino acids and various compounds, notes a February 2020 review in the journal Nutrients. It has drawn the attention of researchers interested in how it's been used in traditional and alternative medical treatments, from skin care to cough.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes more than 30 areas in which evidence may help unlock honey's benefits. Currently, it includes only burns, cough, diabetic foot ulcers, dry eyes, rosacea, mouth sores (due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments) and wound healing as having decent evidence for possible effectiveness of honey.
Honey can thin out mucus and may be better than cough syrup for children 1 and older to loosen a cough, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org website. But you should never give honey to babies under 12 months of age because it may contain a bacterium that causes infant botulism.
Similar guidance about using honey to soothe coughs is recommended for adults, according to the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS).
Read more: The Dangers and Benefits of Raw Honey
Is This an Emergency?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Why Cholesterol Matters for Women”
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Oral Administration of Tualang and Manuka Honeys Modulates Breast Cancer Progression in Sprague-Dawley Rats Model”
- Journal of Nutrition: “Consumption of Honey, Sucrose, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup Produces Similar Metabolic Effects in Glucose-Tolerant and -Intolerant Individuals”
- Johanna Contreras, MD, cardiologist, Mount Sinai, New York City
- Journal of Ayub Medical College: “Effects of Natural Honey on Blood Glucose and Lipid Profile in Young Healthy Pakistani Males”
- National Health Service: “Honey, Not Antibiotics, Recommended for Coughs”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Honey”
- Nutrients: "Honey and Its Phenolic Compounds as an Effective Natural Medicine for Cardiovascular Diseases in Humans?"
- American Academy of Pediatrics: "Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?"