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Nutritional and therapeutic role of honey
Wednesday, 13 July, 2022, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Kavya Chaurasia & Mamta Thakur
Honey is a naturally sweet substance produced by honey bees from plant nectar, secretions, or plant-sucking insect excretions. The bees collect these substances, transform them by combining them with other substances, deposit, dehydrate, store, and then keep the transformed product in the honey comb to ripen and mature.

The plant species that honeybees visit, as well as the processing and storage environments, all affect the composition and quality of honey. In honey, the carbohydrates play a key role. Fructose and glucose are the two monosaccharides that make up 65-80% of honey sugars, making them the major portion.

Honey also contains minor constituents such as proteins, enzymes, amino acids and organic acids, vitamins, volatile compounds, phenolic acids (caffeic acid, coumaric acid, ferrulic acid, ellagic acid, chlorogenic acid), flavonoids (chyrisin, pinocambrin, pinobanksin, quercetin, luteolin, apigenin) and carotenoid also.

Potassium is the main mineral element in honey and other minerals include phosphorus, calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese etc. The main enzymes in honey are diastase (amylase) & invertase (saccharase, a-glusosidase) which play important role in judging the quality of honey and are also used as indicator of honey freshness.

For researchers of traditional medicine and the public health, honey is steadily gaining recognition as a reliable and efficient therapeutic agent. Antimicrobial (bactericidal or fungicidal), bacteriostatic (or fungistatic), anti-inflammatory potential, wound (sunburn healing) potential, antioxidant potential, radical scavenging activity, and antiviral activity are the main biological characteristics that make it ideal as a therapeutic agent.

Honey is one of the potential medicine substitutes because it is natural, harmless, and has a wide range of therapeutic effects.

Nutrition from honey
Honey is primarily pure sugar; it has no fat and very little protein or fibre. Although most individuals don't generally consume enough honey for it to be a significant dietary source of vitamins and minerals, it does contain trace levels of several elements.

A tablespoon of honey has 58 kcal of calories, 0 g of fat, 15.3 g of carbohydrates, and 0.08 g of protein.  Although there is no specific daily consumption for honey, due to its high sugar content, but honey should be used in moderation. The World Health Organisation advises against consuming more than 10% of one's daily energy from free sugars. For an adult requiring 2000 kcal a day, 10% equates to no more than 200 kcal from free sugars, which is about 60 grams of honey if honey is used as the unique external source of sugar in one’s diet.

It is simple to believe that honey is healthier than sugar because it contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, unlike sugar. Less than 1% of the daily necessary quantity of vitamins and minerals can be found in honey, though. Large amounts of honey would need to be consumed in order to benefit from the low vitamin and mineral content of honey's health advantages. Such amounts would be in excess of the WHO's suggested daily allowance for sugar. Therefore, a spoonful of honey will help with energy metabolism because it contains sugar (without going over the daily limit for sugar intake), but it is unlikely to have any other health benefits.

Therapeutic value of honey
Antimicrobial activity:

Even against microorganisms that have evolved resistance to many antibiotics, honey has demonstrated to have a potent antibacterial activity against both pathogenic and nonpathogenic microorganisms (such as bacteria, yeasts, and fungi).

Depending on the concentration, the honey's antimicrobial impact may be bacteriostatic or bactericidal. Additionally, bee honey is a mixture of supersaturated sugars; these sugars have a strong affinity for water molecules, which makes it difficult for bacteria and yeast to develop because of this. As a result, bacteria eventually dry out and pass away. Honey's natural acidity inhibits microbial growth, and the typical pH range of most harmful bacteria is between 4.0 and 4.5.

Anti-inflammatory property:
Although inflammation plays a crucial role in the body's normal response to an infection or injured tissues, when it is severe or delayed, it can hinder recovery or even worsen the situation. Bee honey's significant phenolic content is what gives it its anti-inflammatory properties. These phenolic and flavonoid substances inhibit the pro-inflammatory activities of inducible nitric oxide synthase (INOS) and/or cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-1 and COX-2).

Antioxidant potential
Flavonoids and phenolic acids are just a couple of the significant bioactive plant chemicals and antioxidants found in high grade honey, which is little processed, unheated, and fresh. More antioxidants are often present in darker kinds than in lighter ones. Reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can accumulate in cells and cause harm, are neutralised by antioxidants in the body. Conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature ageing can all be made worse by this injury.

While handling, processing, and storage conditions of the honey have a small impact on its antioxidant capacity, elements like the honey's botanical origin have a significant impact on its antioxidant activity. Numerous studies have found a direct relationship between an object's antioxidant activity and its total phenolic content, as well as between antioxidant activity and its hue.

Due to the presence of both enzymatic (diastase, invertase, and glucose oxidase) and non-enzymatic chemicals, honey has been discovered to have high antioxidant action (phenolic acids, flavonoids, amino acids, organic acids). The floral source, geographic origin, climatic circumstances, processing, storage, and handling all have a significant impact on the antioxidant activity of honey.

Heart health booster
In order to improve heart health and function, honey may help lower blood pressure, raise blood fat levels, control your heartbeat, and stop the death of healthy cells. Additionally, propolis, a type of resin produced by bees from plants and trees that generate sap, is frequently found in raw honey. The levels of cholesterol and triglycerides may be improved by propolis. For a deeper understanding of how honey affects heart health, more research is required.

In addition, honey is utilized to treat a wide range of illnesses. These include: dermatitis, blockage, wounds, skin inflammation, worm invasion, and the healing of ulcers. They also include: asthma, eye disorders, TB, throat infections, hepatitis, exhaustion, and hepatitis. Therefore, honey can be easily introduced to a diet to either prevent or treat a variety of ailments. Recently, it has gained widespread acceptance as a medicinal drug that is affordable and free of adverse effects.

Therefore, honey is generally regarded by all ages, cultures, and civilizations, both ancient and modern, as nourishment and medicine. In addition to being used as food, honey is also used to cure wounds and as a complementary medicine for a variety of clinical disorders, from gastrointestinal issues to ocular conditions. These facts strongly support the use of honey in both food formulations and nutraceuticals. Therefore, increasing honey production and consumption in our nation is necessary.

(Chaurasia and Thakur, belong to Department of Food Technology, School of Sciences, ITM University, Gwalior. They can be reached at
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