Why Honey May Be A Sweet Idea for Type 2 Diabetes
Honey is a sweet food that would naturally seem to be a no-no for people who have type 2 diabetes. However, a new review suggests this natural sweetener may offer several important benefits for the millions of people who have the disease.
It is already well accepted that honey can be helpful in several health issues, such as killing bacteria and accelerating the healing of wounds. On the surface, however, it seems contrary for honey to help control blood glucose.
Yet this is what a number of research studies have found. Here are some examples.
Rats given honey experienced a reduction in hyperglycemia and researchers found that this benefit was dose-related. That means the animals showed a greater improvement in blood glucose levels with higher amounts of honey.
The authors explained this surprising effect by suggesting the fructose and oligosaccharides that make up honey may somehow conspire to bring sugar levels down. Oligosaccharides are a type of carbohydrate that are largely not digested by the body and end up in the colon where they nurture good bacteria (probiotics).
In a study of healthy individuals, diabetics, and people with high lipid levels, researchers discovered that:
- Honey lowered an important marker of inflammation (C-reactive protein)
- Honey caused a significantly lower rise in blood sugar less than did sugar (dextrose and sucrose)
- Honey lowered levels of homocysteine, another marker associated with diabetes
- Honey reduced levels of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and triglycerides and raised good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol)
Some other benefits of honey observed in diabetes studies include:
- Reduced oxidative stress, which is a significant contributing factor in diabetes complications
- Lowered hemoglobin A1c levels
- Improved the response to antidiabetes drugs (glibenclamide and metformin). Addition of honey to treatment with these drugs results in much lower glucose levels.
- Significantly reduced levels of creatinine, bilirubin, triglycerides, and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in rats with diabetes when given with either glibenclamide or metformin. However, these effects were not observed when the drugs were given alone
Researchers have suggested that honey could be given as part of diabetes treatment to improve glycemic control and reduce oxidative stress. However, one major hurdle is the lack of long-term studies, as the benefits thus far have been seen in short-term studies, with only one study lasting 12 weeks.
In that so-called “long-term” study, use of honey improved glycemia, lipid levels, and body fat in people with type 1 diabetes. A similar but shorter (8 weeks) study in people with type 2 diabetes showed benefits as well.
However, the patients in the type 2 diabetes study also had a rise in their HbA1c levels. Although this was the only study thus far to show a negative impact of honey on HbA1c, investigators need to study this effect closely while determining whether honey can be helpful in fighting diabetes.
Use of honey in diabetes raises another question, one of which is which type of honey is the best to use. Thus far researchers have experimented with several different types, including tualang and Ilam, and they have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels and metabolic abnormalities in rats and in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, different types of honey have varying levels of antioxidants and other characteristics that may have an impact on how they affect diabetic factors. These issues will need to be considered in future studies as well.
The bottom line
Honey appears to be a healthier choice of sweeteners for people who have diabetes. Research indicates it has a positive effect on both oxidative stress (which helps reduce the risk of diabetic complications) and hyperglycemia.
But there is still much experts do not understand about the relationship between honey and diabetes. Before you make any changes in your diet regarding honey, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider, nutritionist, or diabetes educator.
Abdulrhman MM et al. Metabolic effects of honey in type 1 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover pilot study. Journal of Medicinal Food 2013; 13:66-72
Al-Waili NS. Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose. Journal of Medicinal Food 2004 Spring; 7(1): 100-7
Bahrami M et al. Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 2009; 13:618-26
Erejuwa OO. Effect of honey in diabetes mellitus: matters arising. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders 2014; 13:23
Erejuwa OO et al. Hypoglycemic and antioxidant effects of honey supplementation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2010 Jan; 80(1): 74-82