Honey has been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, antiatherogenic, and antithrombotic properties, as well as wound healing effects. Honey is composed primarily of the sugars levulose, dextrose, and maltose, with a small fraction of sucrose, whereas table sugar consists of sucrose.
Honey also contains acacetin, caffeic acid, caffeic acid phenyl esters, chrysin, galangin, pinobanksin, pinocembrin, and pinostrobin, as well as some apigenin, ferulic acid, kaempferol, luteolin and quercetin, all of which have known or suspected anticancer activities.
In addition to its beneficial flavonoid content, honey has been shown to have slower uptake into the bloodstream (making it less likely to cause an overstimulation of insulin production) than sugar. Honey results in lower blood glucose and triglyceride levels than sugar. Honey has also been reported to protect the bone and inhibit bone loss. These factors suggest that using honey as a sweetener is preferable to table sugar with respect to overall health. Nevertheless, honey should be consumed in moderation because of it's relatively high glycemic index.
Honey has been found to reduce triple negative (ER-/PR-/HER2-) breast cancer growth and proliferation. As is the case for ER- disease, honey is also cytotoxic to estrogen receptor positive ER+ breast cancer cells in ways that do not depend on estrogen-related processes. However, honey incorporates compounds that simultaneously have estrogenic properties (resulting in increased growth and proliferation of ER+/PR+ breast cancer cells) and inhibit aromatase expression (reducing the synthesis of estrogen from androgens within the body).
Based on the available evidence, honey appears to be beneficial for those with breast cancer, although it should be consumed in moderation. Honey and honey micronutrient supplements are to be avoided, in part because they are unlikely to provide the largely beneficial estrogen/anti-estrogen balance found in honey itself.
The flavone and phytoestrogen chrysin, which is found in high concentrations in honey, has been found to inhibit tumor angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) in nude mice. Chrysin has also been shown to inhibit ER+/PR+ breast cancer cell proliferation by inducing by apoptosis (programmed cell death). In addition, chrysin has been reported to suppress the growth of metastatic triple negative breast cancer cells.
Chrysin has been reported to be an aromatase inhibitor. In fact, chrysin supplements are used by some bodybuilders as "testosterone boosters" under the theory that chrysin will prevent the conversion of androgens such as testosterone to estrogen in the body. There is some evidence for aromatase inhibition by chrysin in ER+ breast cancer cells. However, chrysin has also been found to have estrogenic properties. Nevertheless, one study that addressed the question as to whether chrysin was on balance estrogenic reported that its dominant effect was to inhibit aromatase.
The flavonol galangin has been found to have an antiproliferative effect in human breast cancer cells. For example, galangin has been shown to inhibit triple negative breast cancer cell growth and proliferation by inhibiting the expression of cyclin D3, a gene that plays an important role breast cancer development. Galangin also may be effective in reducing epigenetic repression of the tumor suppressor gene BRCA1 and restoring estrogen receptor (ERα), raising the possibility that galangin may be used as the basis for developing new treatment for ERα- breast cancers.
Manuka honey is produced by bees that pollinate the manuka bush native to New Zealand. Tualang honey is a Malaysian multifloral honey produced by bees who build hives on branches of the Tualang tree.
Manuka honey has been shown to inhibit triple negative breast cancer growth through the actions of some of the flavonoids present in the honey (chrysin, galangin, luteolin, and quercetin). One study reported that both Manuka honey and Tualang honey reduced tumor growth and mass in an animal model of breast cancer by increasing the susceptibility of tumor cells to programmed cell death. However, manuka honey has also been found to have estrogenic activity, stimulating ER+/PR+ breast cancer cell growth and proliferation at some concentrations.
One study reported that Tualang honey enhanced the cytotoxic effect of tamoxifen by degrading the mitochondrial membrane. Still another study found that Tualang honey increased the treatment effects of the aromatase inhibitor Arimidex (anastrozole).
One study of thyme, pine and fir Greek honey extracts found that they possessed anti-estrogenic activity at low concentrations and estrogenic activity at high concentrations in ER+ breast cancer cells. On balance, fir honey increased the viability of ER+/PR+ breast cancer, whereas thyme honey suppressed breast cancer-related processes.
The antitumor activity of the chemotherapeutic drugs 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and cyclophosphamide have been shown to be enhanced by honey.
Honey has been found to be useful during breast cancer treatment for hand and foot skin reactions resulting from chemotherapy, as well as radiation-and chemotherapy-induced mucositis and skin reactions.
It has been demonstrated that the flavonoids quercetin, apigenin, galangin and chrysin, all found in honey, together decrease Adriamycin (doxorubicin) cytotoxicity against mouse leukemia cells. Quercetin itself has also been found to induce cytotoxicity and DNA strand breaks and other damage in normal cells at supplementation levels of one to two grams of quercetin per day. In addition, as noted above, some honey components have estrogenic properties. Therefore, supplements that contain concentrated extracts of honey or its components should be avoided.
The phenolic contents of different types of honey can vary greatly. The best honeys have high phytonutrient content from the pollens collected by the bees. The darkest honeys, such as buckwheat honey, are a better source of phenolic compounds than lighter-colored honeys. These compounds contribute significantly to the antioxidant and chemopreventive properties of honey, but are not solely responsible.
Filtering honey can reduce this beneficial content, however raw honey is not necessarily safe, especially if imported from South America or Asia. Note that some honey sold in the U.S. is adulterated with fillers such as corn syrup.
Good choices are organic buckwheat or wildflower honeys from well-established producers. Health food store brands can be acceptable, depending on where the honey is sourced. The honey should not only be organic, but also produced in a rural area (without substantial local air pollution that could be drifting down into the soil or flowers). It is best if the honey is produced by a farm that has been dedicated to honey production for decades. The honey can be filtered to remove debris but should not be processed with heat.
Propolis, also known as hive dross, is a waxy resinous substance used by honeybees in hive construction and maintenance. It is made by bees from plant resins, essential oils and pollen. Propolis has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ills and it continues to be so used today. The chemical composition of propolis can vary greatly from region to region. Propolis contains several compounds with suspected or demonstrated anti-cancer effects, including caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), chrysin, and galangin.
The favanoid CAPE, found primarily in propolis, has been shown to have synergistic cytotoxic effects with tamoxifen in ER+/PR+ breast cancer. One study reported that the combination increased the life span of tumor-bearing mice (reducing their tumor size and weight) compared to those treated with either CAPE or tamoxifen alone. CAPE has also been demonstrated to protect against tamoxifen-induced liver damage in rats. In addition, CAPE has been reported to inhibit triple negative breast cancer cell viability and migration.
Brazilian propolis has been shown to suppress tumor-induced angiogenesis, apparently through action of its component artepillin C (i.e., 3,5-diprenyl-4-hydroxycinnamic acid, typically not found in propolis of European origin). However, Brazilian propolis has also been reported to cause acute kidney failure.
However, propolis has been shown to produce estrogenic effects in human breast cancer cells through activation of estrogen receptors. One study reported that Turkish propolis in low doses protected ER+/PR+ breast cancer cells by inhibiting cellular apoptosis (programmed cell death). We do not recommend taking propolis as a dietary supplement.
Royal jelly is a bee secretion that is used to feed the larvae in a honey bee colony. It has traditionally been thought to improve menopausal symptoms. Royal jelly has also been found to have estrogenic effects in human breast cancer cells, enhancing their proliferation. It also is not recommended.
Cases of honey food poisoning ("honey intoxication" or "mad honey poisoning") have been reported as a result of consuming grayanotoxin-contaminated honey. Grayanotoxin and similar neurotoxins can cause serious heart disturbances, among other symptoms. Grayanotoxin is found in the pollen and nectar (and other parts) of rhododendrons and other plants of the Ericaceae family, including the western azalea, California rosebay, mountain laurel, and sheep laurel. Honeys from Japan, Brazil, United States, Nepal, British Columbia, and Turkey on occasion have been found to contain grayanotoxin. Consumers should assure themselves of the quality and safety of any specialty honeys they consume.
The information above, which is updated continually as new research becomes available, has been developed based solely on the results of academic studies. Clicking on any of the underlined terms will take you to its tag or webpage, which contain more extensive information.
Below are links to 20 recent studies concerning honey and its components. For a more complete list, including less recent studies, please click on honey.