HONEY, PART 1 - An Example of Food Effecting Chemistry

G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

Volume 23, number 5, 02/26/05, page 14

Honey has a long history of treating many disorders in folk medicine. It was even mentioned in the holy Quran that a drink from bees' bodies is healing for men.

When I was in chiropractic school in the mid 1980s, I remember my nutrition teacher said that honey was a better sweetener than sugar. Over the years, many of the more conservative nutrition publications I take have stated that there is little difference between honey and sugar and that honey as a healthier alternative to sugar is an unsubstantiated wives’ tale. Therefore, when this paper2 by Norri S. Al-Waili, MD, PhD (one of the world’s premier honey researchers) on how honey affected the blood came across my desk, I was quite interested.

Ten volunteers who were medical staff members of the medical center where the author works (doctors, lawyers, and technicians) volunteered for a one-month study. For 2 weeks they followed a tightly controlled diet, had a blood test, and then continued the diet for 2 more weeks with the addition of 1.2-gm/kg body weight of local unprocessed honey, which was dissolved in 250 ml of water.

For those not metrically inclined, myself included, this translates as follows. A 70 kg person = 154 pounds. At a 1.2 gm/kg body weight dose, this equates to 84 gm a day of honey, which on the surface seems like a tremendous amount. However, one tablespoon of honey contains 21 gm and, therefore, the total amount of honey supplemented would be 4 tablespoons for a 154 pound person. This provides 240 calories, which for my non-metrically inclined mind is much less than I would have guessed. The following were tested after 2 weeks of the control diet and again following the diet plus honey:

Copper (µg/dl)
Calcium (mg/dl)
Ferritin (ng/ml)
Iron (µg/dl)
Iron Binding Capacity (µg/dl)
Magnesium (mg/dl)
Phosphorus (mg/dl)
Zinc (µg/dl)
Beta Carotene (µg/dl)
Vitamin C (mg/dl)
Glutathione Reductase (mg/dl)
Eosinophils (%)
Hemoglobin (g/dl)
White Blood Cell (k/ul)
Immunoglobulin E (iu/l)
Amylase (µ/l)
Alkaline Phosphatase (IU/I)
Creatinine Kinase
Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase (IU/I)
Uric Acid (mg/dl)
Lymphocytes (%)
Monocytes (%)
Neutrophils (%)
Packed Cell Volume (%)
Platelet Count (k/ul)
Red Blood Cells (million/ml)
Fasting Blood Sugar (mg/dl)

This article originally caught my eye because my knee jerk reaction to 1.2 gm/kg body weight of honey in a normal individual was a feeling that the amount ingested was tremendous. This study only included 10 people. Therefore, should be interpreted with the knowledge that there is an excellent chance that a greater sample size would change the results. For example, in the abstract the author states that beta carotene increased by 3%. In fact, most factors showed minute changes that would be notable in a larger trial. But, with only 10 subjects, I disregarded small changes in zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron binding capacity, glutathione, red blood cells, white blood cells, packed cell volume, neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, monocytes, and hemoglobin. However, that left some very significant changes apparently caused by 2 weeks of 4 tablespoons of honey daily. They are as follows:

Substance Following 2 weeks of control diet Controlled diet with honey
Creatinine Kinase 55.3±27.3 37±27
AST 17.8±6.7 13.9±8.2
ALT 27.1±17 22.9±19.5
Lactic Acid Dehydrogenase 169.7±38 100±50
Vitamin C 0.8±0.5 1.2±0.8
Copper 85.4±13.3 113.4±28.7
Iron 80.5±8.1 96.9±13
Ferritin 82±23 73±28
Fasting Blood Sugar 100±6.5 96±6.3

Whether or not honey affects most people this way needs to be verified with a study containing more subjects. Having said that, this is a great example that food can act as a biological modifier. In the case of honey, due to its high sugar content, I would have never guessed that (even in a small study) it would have this much effect on various factors. I feel it can be safely extrapolated to assume that other foods we consume can cause measurable changes as well. For example, how would 2 weeks of donuts and french fries, apples and oranges, or a quart of soda effect ones blood chemistry? I think in the next 20 years we will see more research on how various foods affect various people.


1Al-Waili, N.S. Topical Honey Application Versus Acyclovir for the Treatment of Recurrent Herpes Simplex Lesions. Med. Sci. Monit. 2004; 10(8): 94-98.
2Al-Waili, N.S. The Effects of Daily Consumption of Honey Solution on Hematological Indices and Blood Levels of Minerals and Enzymes in Normal Individuals. J. Medicinal Food. 2003; 6(2): 135-140


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