What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Honey Every Day

Few things in nature are sweeter than honey. There are seemingly endless ways to enjoy its lusciously delicious taste, from adding it to a bowl of oatmeal at breakfast to slathering it on a peanut butter sandwich for an on-the-go lunch to mixing it into a homemade marinade or barbecue sauce at dinnertime. But honey is more than just a sweet treat. As a 2011 paper published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine explained, honey has been used for its healing properties for thousands of years. Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory characteristics made it an invaluable tool for treating infections and inflammation before the age of antibiotics and NSAIDs, and modern medicine is "rediscovering" just how useful honey can be.

And if you thought the only difference between honeys was whether they came in a plastic bear or a fancy glass jar, think again. According to the National Honey Board, there are more than 300 varieties of honey in the United States. Which flowers the bees fed from dictates not only the color and flavor of the honey, but also its sugar content and the quantity and variety of amino acids, organic acids, and other micronutrients. Some honey is so rich in particular compounds that it's designated medical grade (via WebMD).

But is honey really the all-natural miracle cure-all some people claim it to be, or is it just glorified sugar? And what happens to your body if you eat (or apply) it every day?

Honey gives your body the antioxidants it needs to fight free radicals

Honey is a rich source of antioxidants, but the quantity and variety of antioxidants in any individual honey depend on which flowers the bees fed from beforehand. As a 2002 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry concluded, "In general, the antioxidant capacity of honey appeared to be a result of the combined activity of a wide range of compounds including phenolics, peptides, organic acids, enzymes, Maillard reaction products, and possibly other minor components."

But what exactly do antioxidants do and why are they so important for good health? As Livestrong detailed, antioxidants are chemicals that protect the body against damage from free radicals. Free radicals are highly unstable atoms of oxygen that try to "steal" electrons from other molecules in the body. This destabilizes the molecules and creates a chain reaction that leads to damage throughout the body, a process known as oxidative damage or oxidative stress. Substances that produce free radicals can be found in food and in our environment, and free radicals are also created as the byproduct of natural chemical processes in the body. Antioxidants are able to give free radicals the electrons they want without becoming destabilized themselves.

Get rid of a pesky cough by eating honey

Whether you opt for an all-natural homemade concoction with tea and lemon or simply reach for a bag of Ricola, you're probably no stranger to honey when you're trying to soothe a stubborn cough. As Dr. Amesh Adalja explained in an interview with Women's Health, "Honey is not a cure for cough, but a substance that can decrease its intensity." It's unclear exactly how honey does this, but one theory is that it reduces inflammation in the airways. It may also calm the nerves that stimulate coughing. Honey is also a demulcent, or a substance that reduces irritation in the mucus membranes that line the mouth, throat, and lungs.

A review of the scientific literature published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine in 2021 examined 14 previously published studies to try to determine if honey is a helpful treatment when you're feeling under the weather. The authors concluded that "honey was superior to usual care for the improvement of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections." They also pointed out that many people are quick to request antibiotics from their doctor when they aren't feeling well, even though many respiratory infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Giving honey a try could cut down on the number of needless antibiotic prescriptions, which in turn slows the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Eating honey every day could improve your cholesterol

High cholesterol is a big problem in the United States. An estimated 93 million American adults have a total cholesterol level greater than 200 mg/dL, and approximately 29 million of those individuals have levels higher than 240 mg/dL. In addition, 18% of adults have an HDL ("good") cholesterol level below 40mg/dL. High cholesterol doesn't have any symptoms, but it's a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If your cholesterol numbers aren't what they should be, swapping out regular sugar for honey could nudge them in the right direction. In a 2008 study published in The Scientific World Journal, participants received either 70 grams of sucrose (white sugar) or 70 grams of honey daily for 30 days. Those who already had high cholesterol and ate the honey saw a 3.3% reduction in total cholesterol, a 4.3% reduction in LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and a 19% decrease in triglycerides when compared to the group who ate sugar. Even if your cholesterol numbers are within the normal range, honey may still be helpful. Those in the honey group who had acceptable cholesterol still experienced a 3% drop in total cholesterol, 5.8% reduction in LDL, and 11% decrease in triglycerides.

Lower your blood pressure by eating honey

Could honey really improve your cardiovascular health? In a 2011 study conducted on rodents and published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers found that honey reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading and the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts) of diabetic rats. The study authors credited honey's antioxidant content for this drop in blood pressure.

Building off of this research, another rodent study, this one published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2012, concluded that honey lowers blood pressure by reducing oxidative stress in the kidneys. These organs regulate blood pressure, so the inflammation and tissue damage caused by oxidative stress can send blood pressure skyrocketing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 45% of Americans have hypertension, defined as a systolic blood pressure of 130 mmHg or greater or a diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxed between beats) of 80 mmHg or greater. Having high blood pressure greatly increases your risk for both heart disease and stroke.

A daily dose of honey may cause spikes in your blood sugar levels

It may seem like honey is a healthier sweetener than white sugar, but it actually has more sugar than sucrose (regular table sugar). A tablespoon of white sugar contains 40 calories and 12 grams of sugar, while a tablespoon of honey packs 64 calories and 17.3 grams of sugar (via MyRecipes).

Honey and regular sugar aren't that far apart on the glycemic index (GI) either. The GI measures how quickly the sugar in a particular food raises blood sugar levels in the body. Honey has a GI score of 61, while table sugar has a score of 65, putting both in the moderately glycemic category, according to Harvard Medical School. This means eating honey will drive your blood sugar level up almost as quickly as eating regular sugar, as confirmed in a study published in 2015 in The Journal of Nutrition. Over the course of three 14-day periods, participants consumed 50 grams each of sucrose, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup. When examining the individuals' glucose levels, insulin levels, and biomarkers for insulin resistance, researchers found no difference between the three sweeteners.

The spikes in blood sugar honey causes force the body to release insulin, which drives blood sugar levels down by forcing glucose into the cells, where it can be used for fuel. But this rollercoaster effect can leave people feeling exhausted and irritable (via Sanford Health).

Treat a troubled tummy with honey

You may have never heard the word gastroenteritis before, but you're probably all too familiar with this unpleasant condition. More commonly called the stomach flu, gastroenteritis is an infection of the digestive tract caused by viruses, bacteria, or other germs. Abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea are the hallmark symptoms of gastroenteritis, and the infection usually clears up within a few days. (Though anyone familiar with the joy of using the toilet and a trash can at the same time will agree that's a few days too many.) Dehydration is the most common complication of the stomach flu, according to Better Health.

While you may not feel like eating anything when there's a risk it'll soon be reappearing out of both ends, research has demonstrated that honey can shorten the duration and severity of the stomach flu. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical and Dental Science, children with gastroenteritis were split into three groups. The control group received oral rehydration solution (ORS), while a second group received ORS that contained dissolved honey, and a third group received ORS and honey separately. While those who received the ORS supplemented with honey fared better than the control group, the children who had the honey separately did the best. They recovered approximately two days faster than the control group and a day faster than the other group. They also had fewer total bowel movements.

Eating honey every day could lead to weight gain

If you've got a real sweet tooth and find yourself drizzling honey on all your meals morning, noon, and night, you might not like what you see on the scale. Even though the calories in honey are slightly less "empty" than those in refined sugar thanks to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, honey is still a calorie-dense, sugary food. A single serving of honey has 17.3 grams of sugar and 64 calories after all.

Sugar packs on the pounds in two ways. First, sugar, like other macronutrients, contains calories — 4 per gram, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eating more calories than you burn leads to weight gain. Second, sugar can influence hormones that affect weight.

As a 2019 paper published in Medical Hypotheses pointed out, the body deals with the sudden spikes in blood glucose that sugar causes by secreting insulin. Insulin allows glucose to be used by cells but also causes any unneeded glucose to be stored as fat. If you eat large amounts of sugar long enough, your body becomes resistant to insulin's effects and your pancreas has to secrete more and more insulin, leading to weight gain. In fact, as the paper noted, insulin resistance is a defining characteristic of obesity.

Eating honey every day won't help with seasonal allergies

Approximately 8% of Americans have seasonal allergies (commonly known as hay fever). As with other allergies, hay fever occurs when the immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance, leading to symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. When someone experiences seasonal allergies depends on their personal triggers and where they live, and some unlucky individuals experience seasonal allergies all year long. Pollen from wind-pollinated plants, such as trees, weeds, and grasses are the most common allergens. Pollen from insect-pollinated plants is usually too heavy to be carried far on the wind and is less likely to cause hay fever (via Healthline).

If you have seasonal allergies, you've probably heard a rumor that eating raw, local honey can cure your hay fever by desensitizing you to the pollen that triggers your symptoms. But, as mentioned above, the plants from which bees feed are rarely the plants that cause seasonal allergies. As the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology noted, "The amount of allergenic pollen in the honey is typically very small, as bees don't intentionally incorporate this pollen into the honey." This allergy-causing pollen is considered a contaminant, as are the bacteria, bee body parts, and mold spores that also sometimes end up in honey (yuck!). Some extremely sensitive individuals may even have a severe allergic reaction to these contaminants when they eat raw honey, leading to itching, swelling, hives, and even anaphylaxis.

Honey may speed wound healing

Long before the advent of modern antibiotics, honey was used to heal wounds and prevent infection. Hydrogen peroxide is the primary component of most honeys that gives them bacteria-killing properties, but some forms of honey have different, more powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds (via WebMD).

Manuka honey, for instance, is made from tea tree flowers and contains a potent chemical known as methylglyoxal (MGO). Individual Manuka honeys receive a unique Manuka factor (UMF) rating based on their concentration of MGO and two other compounds: dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and leptosperin. To be classified as therapeutic (medical) grade, a Manuka honey must have a UMF of 10 or greater.

A 2011 paper published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine noted that "the healing property of honey is due to the fact that it offers antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection." Honey may even be more effective than conventional treatments against antibiotic-resistant germs. Topical honey is an accepted treatment for burns and wounds, including ulcers, bedsores, and surgical incisions. For example, in a 2014 study published in the International Wound Journal, diabetic individuals with foot ulcers were treated either with Manuka honey–impregnated dressings or conventional dressings. The ulcers cleared up much faster for those using the dressings saturated with honey (31 versus 43 days on average).

Soothe troubled skin with honey

In addition to making you healthier from the inside out, honey may also make you healthier from the outside in. It appears to have some real benefits for those with certain skin conditions when applied topically, thanks in large part to its anti-inflammatory properties. A 2014 study published in JRSM Open found that medical-grade honey worked just as well as the standard treatment (aqueous cream) for treating psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a common, chronic skin condition that causes red, scaly patches of skin that can be painful and itchy. It's likely caused by a malfunction of the immune system that causes skin cells to grow faster than normal. Psoriasis tends to occur in cycles, and certain factors can trigger a flare-up. These include skin infections and wounds, both of which honey can help with (via Mayo Clinic).

Honey may also be useful for those with atopic dermatitis. According to the National Eczema Association, atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, a skin condition that affects 16.5 million American adults. Like psoriasis, eczema is a chronic skin condition caused by an out-of-whack immune system. Atopic dermatitis causes dry skin that's prone to itchy rashes. A 2017 study published in Immunity, Inflammation and Disease concluded that, in both cellular studies and clinical trials, honey appears to be an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis rashes.

Honey may or may not help with acne

According to a 2014 paper published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 12 to 22% of women and 3% of men have acne into adulthood. If you're a member of this unfortunate club, you might suspect that eating honey would make acne worse. After all, honey contains a lot of sugar, and sugar and refined carbohydrates are common acne triggers. Sugar and refined carbs cause blood glucose levels to rise, which triggers the release of insulin. While insulin's main job is to drive glucose into the cells, it also heightens the activity of certain hormones, causing skin cells to grow faster and increased oil production (via Healthline).

But sugar-rich honey appears to have some modest zit-zapping properties when applied topically. As Allure explained, the antibacterial qualities of honey may work against P. acnes, the species of bacteria that causes pimples. There's no hard evidence (in the form of scientific studies), however, that proves it's effective against this particular bacteria.

Honey can also help soothe inflammatory acne by drawing out excess fluid through the power of osmosis, but the idea that honey can diminish the appearance of acne scars is wishful thinking. Honey may shorten the amount of time it takes acne lesions to heal, but it has no direct effect on scarring. If you want to combat acne with honey, make sure you use the raw stuff; pasteurizing destroys honey's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Can eating honey every day keep cancer at bay?

A 2017 review published in Pharmacognosy Research noted that honey may have important cancer-fighting properties. Research using animals and cultured cancer cells has revealed that honey can prevent various forms of cancer in several ways. First, it induces apoptosis, the process by which diseased or damaged cells self-destruct before they cause widespread harm. Honey also appears to protect DNA in cells from mutating, reducing the likelihood that a particular mutation will lead to cancer. It also prevents cancer cells from multiplying.

But the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center cautions that there haven't been enough clinical trials in humans to prove honey's usefulness as a cancer treatment. The organization did note, however, that honey may reduce the incidence of bacterial infections following conventional cancer treatments. That said, it did not appear to help inflammation in the mouth and esophagus following radiation treatment for head and neck cancers.

A 2012 paper published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine also pointed out that there are many causes and risk factors for cancer, including smoking, obesity, and alcohol use, and honey may have little or no effect on these. The paper also noted that it's difficult to standardize honey, so using it as an effective treatment for cancer would be logistically tricky.

Boost brain health by eating honey every day

According to a 2014 paper published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, honey may actually be beneficial for brain health. Honey is considered a nootropic — a substance that can improve memory and other cognitive abilities. The paper noted that consuming honey early in life aids in the building and development of the entire central nervous system, leading to improved memory, greater intellectual abilities, and reduced anxiety later in life. Honey may also protect brain cells from damage caused by ischemia (insufficient blood flow). The anti-inflammatory properties may also provide some protection against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. Honey has a particularly noticeable effect on the cells of the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory formation.

There are a number of flavonoids (plant compounds) in honey that contribute to its ability to protect the brain and improve cognitive functioning. These include apigenin, catechin, chrysin, ellagic acid, myricetin, and quercetin, among many others. Honey also triggers release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can improve mood and mental performance. It's important to note, however, that honey's brain-boosting properties are based on research conducted on animals, so it's unclear if it has the same effects in humans.

Eating honey every day may improve fertility

Infertility, defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying, affects approximately 11% of women and 9% of men. Infertility can have many causes, including age; both male and female fertility decrease with age. But while the decline in men is gradual, women experience a precipitous drop in their 30s. Women in this age group are only half as fertile as they were in their 20s, and egg quantity and quality drop significantly after around age 35 (via the National Institutes of Health).

But could honey help extend the "reproductive lifespan" of men and women? According to a 2017 paper published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, honey has been used as a fertility aid for thousands of years. In women, honey is believed to improve egg quality and may make ovulation more regular. In men, honey is thought to improve both sperm count and quality. Honey contains B vitamins, which are essential for creating the hormone testosterone. Honey may also help men with erectile dysfunction. The nitric oxide in honey is a vasodilator, which means it increases blood flow to the penis. In fact, 100 grams of honey can raise nitric oxide levels in the blood by some 50%.