Honey as a Probiotic

Prebiotic and probiotic substances can help you maintain the health of your digestive tract by affecting the bacteria in your gastrointestinal system. Honey is not normally a probiotic substance, but it can serve as a prebiotic. Talk to your doctor before consuming any food for prebiotic purposes to make sure it is safe for you.

A jar of honey on a wooden table. (Image: Serbogachuk/iStock/Getty Images)

Intestinal Bacteria

Your digestive tract, particularly your intestines, naturally contains some bacteria that are typically noninfectious. These bacteria are beneficial because they can help crowd out potentially pathogenic bacteria from your digestive tract; they also play an important role in regulating your immune system. Naturally occurring bacteria in your intestines also are needed to help with digestion.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Honey is not a probiotic substance, but may have use as a prebiotic. Probiotic substances contain living micro-organisms that, when ingested, can increase the levels of the bacteria in the intestines. Prebiotics, on the other hand, have compounds that can serve as food for the naturally occurring intestinal bacteria. Ingesting prebiotics or probiotics is designed to boost the levels of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Honey's ability to serve as a prebiotic hinges on its ability to increase the levels of bacteria in your intestines.

Honey as Prebiotic

The ability of honey to serve as a prebiotic has been examined in cell cultures and in mice. A research project funded by the National Honey Board found that Bifidobacteria cells, a strain of bacteria often found in the intestines, grew more rapidly when honey was added to their media. A 2006 article in "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" also found that feeding honey to mice increased the levels of healthy bacteria in their guts.

Considerations

Although studies have found that honey can be an effective prebiotic substance, its effects on intestinal bacteria have not been studied in humans. Thus, any conclusions that can be drawn from these research studies are limited. Talk to your doctor before trying to add any sort of prebiotic to your diet, as changes in your intestinal bacteria can cause significant gas, bloating and other problems.

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