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Honey Exhibits Antioxidant Properties

Excerpt by Ed Edelson, HealthScoutNews

(HealthScoutNews) -- If you have a sweet tooth but shrink at the empty calories in processed sugar, Nicki Engeseth has a suggestion: Honey.

It's not only sweet, but "nutritionally quite promising," says Engeseth, an assistant professor of food chemistry at the University of Illinois.

Her research indicates that honey seems to offer many of the benefits of the fresh fruits and vegetables that nutritionists recommend for a daily diet.

"Honey has been used medically for hundreds of years for various reasons, but no one put any really strong science behind it," Engeseth says. "Honey is often regarded as just a sweetener, but that's not true. There is a lot of work to show that there is more value to it than has been thought."

A fair amount of that work has been done by Engeseth, who is to present some of her findings today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston. She'll discuss her latest study, in which she looked at the effect of honey intake on blood levels of antioxidants, which are thought to provide some protection against heart disease.

She had 25 healthy young men come to her laboratory and consume measured amounts of five drinks, starting with water, and including water and buckwheat honey, tea and honey, tea alone, and tea with the kind of sugar most people put in it.

"We found a slight protective effect of honey," Engeseth says. "Meaning that we were able to detect an increased antioxidant function in the blood of honey and water over water alone. The other beverages were not found to have a significant effect. The levels with tea plus honey were higher, but did not reach statistical significance."

It was, she acknowledges, a "really short-term" experiment, and "we were hoping to see more dramatic results, but the amount of honey consumed might not have been enough to produce them."

Now she is doing an animal experiment to see whether honey can help prevent atherosclerosis, the gradual blocking of arteries that leads to heart attack and stroke. Rabbits, like people, develop atherosclerosis when fed a high-cholesterol diet, so they are being given that diet along with dollops of honey. The study, scheduled to run 12 weeks, will be completed about a month from now, Engeseth says.

Engeseth's work is funded by the National Honey Board, a Colorado-based industry group. Hers is one of about 10 projects the board is funding to establish the benefits of consuming honey, says Marcia Cardeti, director of scientific affairs for the group.

"Almost every day we hear about the antioxidant properties of almost any fruit and vegetable," Cardeti says. "Honey comes from floral sources -- plants -- so it makes sense that it would have antioxidant properties."

The antioxidants found in honey seem to have the same properties as those in fruits and vegetables, Cardeti says, but the amount depends on the source. There's a general rule -- the darker the honey, the higher the antioxidant content, she says.

That principle was established in work done at the University of Illinois, but not by Engeseth. Insect experts there showed that antioxidant content was related to honey. However, when they applied for money to continue the research, "the honey board wouldn't fund them because they were entomologists," Engeseth says. "So they came to me, and that's how I got into it."

She started with studies of the chemical characteristics of various honeys. "The antioxidant content on a weight basis was similar to that of certain fruits and vegetables, so that spurred us to see what the effects would be on humans," she says.

What To Do

For more on the possible health benefits of honey, visit the National Honey Board. To read the report, you'll need Adobe's Acrobat Reader, which you can download by clicking here. To learn about honey's healing properties, see this CNN story.

Reference Source 101


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