ANN/THE STAR – With cancer cells consuming significantly higher amounts of sugar, specifically glucose, as an energy source – up to 200 times more – it raises the question of whether cancer patients should steer clear of sugary substances like honey. Can this assertion be substantiated?
Honey is created by bees through their saliva and nectar from flowers.
Bees also produce propolis, beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly and venom, all used for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
Since ancient times, propolis – a resin created by bees through a mixture of saliva, wax and substances from plants and trees – has been used in many conditions and aliments for its healing elements, specifically its anti-cancer properties.
Due to propolis’ waxy nature and mechanical properties, bees also use it in the construction and repair of their hives for sealing openings and cracks, and as a protective barrier against external invaders.
There is a big demand for honey in Malaysia with consumers having a wide range to choose from – Kelulut, Tualang, stingless bee and honeybee.
Unfortunately, due to land developments, both Kelulut and Tualang honey have become scarce, resulting in meliponiculture, or bee rearing, specifically for stingless bee honey.
Between stingless bees and honeybees, the former is considered the superior due to the type of honey they produce.
These bees keep their honey protected inside beehives built with propolis pots, where the propolis directly transfers to the small quantities of honey sitting in these pots over time.
In comparison, honeybees store their honey in wax pots that offer no additional benefits.
This results in stingless bee honey having a higher market value than honeybee honey, especially for its cancer benefits and limited availability.
Aside from Malaysian-produced honey, another common household honey popular worldwide is Manuka honey.
Collected from unique plants in Australia and New Zealand, it is widely researched, leading to the belief that it is superior based on the number of scientific data available.
Due to its many benefits, Manuka honey is commonly favored in many parts of the world, including Malaysia.
However, it may not necessarily be superior.
What differentiates it from the rest is the addition of different substances like methylglyoxal, leptosperin and docosahexanoic acid (DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid).
Compared to other honey – depending on the species of bees – stingless bee honey contains benzoic acid and taxifolin, while honey from honeybees has chrysin, gallic, ellagic and ferulic acids.
All are useful against cancer and used for blood glucose and blood pressure control, and cholesterol-lowering.
However, eyebrows are still raised regarding the sugar level found in honey and just how useful it is for cancer patients.
THE BEST SUGAR
Contrary to popular belief, the type of sugar present in honey is different; honey contains not only glucose but also fructose, sucrose and maltose.
Its fructose content is the highest, at 40 per cent.
Among the different types of sugars, glucose is not desirable to both cancer patients and people with diabetes.
Although glucose is less sweet than fructose or sucrose, it is released the fastest into the bloodstream, which can lead to a sugar spike.
On the other hand, fructose, although it is the sweetest, has less impact on blood sugar levels and is absorbed more slowly into the body, thus it does not affect insulin levels drastically.
Similarly, sucrose must be broken down into fructose and glucose first, impacting blood sugar levels less.
Maltose is made of two glucose molecules and will also take time to be broken down by the body, creating a lesser impact on blood sugar levels.
Therefore, it is not true that cancer patients cannot consume honey.
Nevertheless, moderation in the amount used is still essential.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Honey is well-known for its anti-cancer properties thanks to the presence of antioxidants.
Exposure to stressors such as cigarette smoking, pollutants, chemicals in food and the environment, and ultraviolet and X-rays allow free radicals to form.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells, contribute to diseases like cancer, and cause ageing.
To combat this, antioxidants are necessary substances that can help mop up free radicals in the body and keep their levels in check, therefore being good anti-cancer agents.
All types of honey are rich in antioxidants, making honey a good potential for preventing and treating cancers. For example, Manuka and acacia honey have been shown to prevent breast and skin cancers, respectively,
while Gelam Honey from Malaysia acts to prevent liver cancer.
Researchers reported that Greek and thyme honey affects the female hormone (oestrogen) to act against breast cancer, while pineapple and
Gelam Honey have shown some activity against colorectal cancer.
A 2022 study published in the Cancer Management and Research journal showed that honey has the capability to heal injured tissues and has fewer side effects compared to synthetic drugs.
In the study, honey was given to paediatric cancer patients, who kept it in their mouths when radiation was administered.
This was done to prevent radiation mucositis (tissue injury ie side effect of radiation) in head and neck cancers. The honey present helped to act as a “physical block” to the effects of radiation in the mouth.
Honey has many potential benefits for various cancers, but these studies must be performed in large clinical trials to confirm their effects on humans.
To get the maximum benefits of honey, it should be kept from light to prevent the release of some chemicals like 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), a substance that can cause cancer when used alone.
However, its impact in high concentrations in honey (which also contains many other compounds that may inhibit its activity) has not been reported.
As a precaution, honey should be consumed within one year of its processing since 5-HMF content increases with time, particularly when stored for more than one year.
Honey should be stored in glass bottles.
This is because small amounts of plasticizers, or phthalate, have been detected in honey kept in plastic containers. The plasticizers are transferred from the plastic wall into the honey, therefore glass bottles are safer for storage.
Do not store honey in extreme temperatures either since it can destroy the active constituents and the enzymes.
Additionally, when selecting honey, it is advisable to choose the darker-coloured ones – the colour is due to the presence of flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which are good antioxidants.
On the other hand, raw honey tends to be the better choice – when honey is heated or pasteurized, it tends to lose the enzymes and the antioxidant effects due to the high temperatures.
Ideally, honey is best consumed “neat” (directly) to maintain its nutritional properties, as heating will destroy the enzymes and vitamins present. So, do not mix honey into hot water.
The American Heart Association advises that approximately one tablespoon of honey (21 grams) per day is good for us; more specifically 24 grams for women and children, and 36 grams for men.
Although honey has higher calories than sugar (21 calories/teaspoon or four grams), its medicinal properties far outweigh the impact.
In a nutshell, honey does not worsen cancer, but more studies need to be conducted to confirm honey’s exact effects on humans.
Nevertheless, thanks to its rich antioxidant properties, honey continues to be widely experimented on in cancer prevention and treatment research.
Although honey has plenty of benefits, cancer patients are still advised to consume it in moderation. – Dr. Gan Siew Hua
You can buy all three honeys: Tualang Honey, Gelam Honey, and Kelulut Honey, here at FortuneHoney.com