Is honey an antioxidant?

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Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Honey, particularly darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, is a rich source of phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, that exert significant antioxidant activity. A recent human trial showed that daily consumption of honey actually improves blood antioxidant levels and helps prevent lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation, the damaging of lipids (such as cholesterol) by free radicals is central to the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Honey's ability to prevent lipid peroxidation may translate into a protective effect against atherosclerosis, since oxidized cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for this cardiovascular disease. In one human trial, twenty-five men aged 18 to 68 years drank a mixture equivalent to about 4 tablespoons of honey in a glass of water every day for a period of five weeks. The honey, which had antioxidant levels similar to those in apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries, was shown to significantly improve blood antioxidant levels in all the subjects.

Earlier studies conducted by Dr. Nicki Engeseth, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, determined the antioxidant capacity of buckwheat, Hawaiian Christmas berry, tupelo, soybean, clover, fireweed, and acacia honeys. Using the test that is the gold standard for such research -- the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay -- Engeseth found that the darkest-colored honeys, such as buckwheat honey, have the highest ORAC values, which are related to the amount of phenolic compounds they contain. The human trial, also led by Engeseth, showed that the higher a honey's ORAC activity, the better able it was to inhibit lipoprotein (cholesterol) oxidation. Engeseth's research suggests that honey could be used as a healthy alternative to sugar and serve as a source of dietary antioxidants in many products.
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