Raw Honey is Healthy!

The “nectar of the gods”, honey has been used to treat various health conditions for millennia. Recent formal medical, physiological and nutritional research has provided formal evidence for the effectiveness of honey in treating conditions from cough to skin conditions like acne to high blood pressure. Honey has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome (which puts individuals at high risk of heart attacks) and possibly even cancer.

That being said, we don’t market our honey based on its health properties. In all honesty, you can get the same health benefits from any real, pure, raw honey (but do your research – there’s a lot of questionable marketing and fake honeys out there that lack the health benefits of real, raw honey). We encourage you to try our honey if you’re interested in a luxurious sensory experience that’s also healthy and promotes weight loss. Simply put, we believe that the freshness, the deliciousness, and the silky smoothness of our honey will change the way you think of honey.

It is worth noting that most studies use raw honey and the health benefits discussed below apply to raw honey. Pasteurized honey has been heated well above 40°C which causes some of the enzymes to break down, diminishing the health benefits. The higher the temperature and the longer the exposure, the greater the reduction in benefits. Heat exposure and freshness can be measured in the lab. It’s a little-known fact that even at room temperature, raw honey slowly loses freshness, flavour, and health benefits.

While some research into health properties of honey mentions a specific floral source, with the exception of using manuka honey for medical grade sterilized wound dressings, we feel that one shouldn’t place too much emphasis on the specific floral source of the honey when thinking specifically of health benefits. There are three reasons: Firstly, just because a study mentioned that it used this raw honey or that raw honey, doesn’t mean other raw honeys don’t have similar properties. Secondly, studies have shown that the label on the jar is often incorrect when it specifies a floral source – bees often fly up to 5 km (3 miles) and forage whatever flowers are producing nectar within this large area (roughly 80 km2 or 20 thousand acres). Even beekeepers often get this wrong. Finally, debating which honey has, for example, the greatest level of antioxidant activity, is like debating which vegetable has the highest concentration of folate and choosing not to eat cauliflower because spinach has more folate. All vegetables are good for you you just like all raw honeys have health benefits (without evidence of great differences between different honeys for the most part). You can take comfort in the knowledge that whatever your favorite raw honey is, it’s good for you.

While I’m not a practicing physician, I do hold an M.D. degree (University of Manitoba) and a M.Sc. degree in Epidemiology (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) so I have a big interest in personal health, physiology, and public health. And, speaking the lingo, I’m comfortable reading and assessing scientific literature. If you have any questions or comments, please let us know at info@wendellestate.ca. If your comments lead to website updates, we’ll reward you with honey.

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Health Benefits of Raw Honey

Eating raw honey reduces the risk of developing diabetes, especially if honey replaces dietary processed sugars. A big problem with eating processed sugars is the rapid spike in blood glucose (sugar high) followed by a rebound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Repeating this cycle over the long term can cause progressive insulin resistance followed by the development of diabetes. Honey is metabolized differently than processed sugars and results in a slower, longer, healthier blood glucose profile, reducing the risk of diabetes. Current research is examining whether honey is beneficial as a treatment for diabetes. Eating raw honey also improves cholesterol by increasing HDL (good cholesterol) and decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol), which is especially important in people with diabetes. If you don’t have diabetes, eating honey rather than processed sugars will decrease your chance of developing it. If you do have diabetes, honey may have benefits, but you should eat honey with caution and careful monitoring of blood glucose.

Honey is an ideal source of energy to power you through your workout or add that extra mile. Due to the combination of fructose and glucose, with contributions from natural bee enzymes, raw honey is easily digested and efficiently converted to liver glycogen. Liver glycogen is your body’s immediate fuel supply: this is your body’s and your muscles’ source of energy in the short to medium term (about a minute to half an hour). As a natural source of carbohydrates that provides as much energy as a similar amount of sugar, but avoids the unhealthy insulin peak that processed sugars evoke, raw honey is a healthy alternative to sugary drinks or snacks used before or during exercise.

As a beekeeper he may have been biased, but John Wendell believed that eating honey before his races helped him win consistently.

“Honey is just another sugar.” is a comment I often come across, with surprise and disappointment when it comes from a physician, or even worse, a nutritionist. The skeptic in me suspects that “Big Sugar” marketing dollars are fueling this erroneous sentiment. Honey is certainly vastly different from processed sugars. While the research isn’t yet conclusive, there’s increasing evidence that honey promotes weight loss in active individuals. Here’s a recent review of the research. Honey is not a miracle cure for obesity, but eating honey, especially if it replaces processed sugars (like those in energy snacks and drinks), should give you healthy energy for your workout AND help you slim down, especially if you are physically active.

This article by Louise Atkinson summarizes in near-layman’s terms the research into how and why eating honey can help you to lose weight. The article also has starter suggestion recipes for a diet that replaces harmful processed sugars with honey. As always, for maximum benefits ensure that you use unadulterated fresh raw honey. The brand or stated floral source of the honey is much less important than simply using real, undiminished raw honey.

There’s widespread agreement, from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to the Mayo Clinic to Evidently Cochrane, that raw honey alleviates coughing at least as well as commonly used medications and over-the-counter treatments. If coughing is keeping you or your child awake, why not try a soothing warm honey drink before bed? Simply add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of honey to warm water. Add lemon and/or ginger and/or cinnamon for extra flavor and holistic healthiness. (Remember that honey should not be given to infants below one year of age.)

Honey has long been thought to improve sleep quality. Proposed physiologic mechanisms for this are similar to the reasons why honey makes an excellent pre-exercise energy snack: eating honey efficiently replenishes liver glycogen stores. Liver glycogen provides your still-active brain with energy while you’re sleeping. It is thought that low blood sugar during sleep can reduce sleep quality and result in waking earlier than desired. A pre-bedtime snack of honey on toast, or drink of honey with warm milk may improve your sleep. This isn’t yet backed by large studies, but this small study gives some scientific support to the folk wisdom.

Studies in rats indicate that raw honey appears to be an effective treatment for peptic ulcers (ulcers of the stomach and small intestine). Studies in humans are lacking, so we wouldn’t recommend treating peptic ulcers solely with honey, but eating honey likely reduces the risk of developing peptic ulcers. Similarly, people who eat honey regularly appear to be less likely to develop peptic ulcers.

Traditionally honey has been prescribed to improve digestion. Raw honey appears to have pre-biotic and pro-biotic properties that promote a healthy gut microbiome that in turn leads to improved intestinal functioning. Quality studies providing good evidence are lacking, but the idea that honey improves digestion is attracting research.

Eating raw honey appears to be good for your heart and circulation. There’s evidence that honey improves cholesterol profile and decreases triglycerides. It’s accepted that raw honey decreases your chances of developing metabolic syndrome, which is a strong risk factor for heart attacks. Honey is also associated with decreased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).

Raw honey is great for your skin and is an effective treatment for a variety of skin conditions. I have personal experience treating my resistant sebhorrheic dermatitis with raw honey. I was skeptical, and it was messy (I did develop a system), but prescription topical medications prescribed by dermatologists were only partially effective, so I gave honey a try and, for me, it worked quite quickly (2-4 weeks to complete resolution). Beyond my personal experience, honey’s healing properties for skin conditions have a lot of scientific evidence.

We don’t necessarily recommend you use your valuable Wendell Estate Honey for skin treatments –  it will get the job done as well as any other raw honey, it’s just that you could use a cheaper raw honey on your skin. Skin treatments are Manuka honey’s specialty if you can afford it (Manuka doesn’t really have special benefits over other raw honeys if you’re eating it).