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Honey and Gut Health

Honey and Gut Health

Honey contains many different sugars, some of which may have benefits for gut health. Where simple sugars like fructose and glucose are easily digested, more complex sugars can feed the good bugs in our gut.

It might sound strange, but our bodies are home to trillions of micro-organisms, and it contains the greatest microbial density of any habitat found on earth. Our body contains many more individual microbes than it does our own cells; reportedly outnumbering them 10 to 1 [1].

This is known as the microbiome, and could be compared to a garden; with the good bugs being flowers and the bad being weeds. Up to 1000 different species have been recorded, however, only 30-40 types make up 99% of those present [2].

These microbes, normally bacteria, reside in the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. They can provide benefit to us by stimulating the immune system, breaking down toxins, and making important nutrients for us. There is even a connection between gut health and appetite [3], mental health [4], and the prevention of disease [5, 6, 7, 8]. In short, our bugs can make us hungry, they can influence our mood, and they can affect disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and type 2 diabetes [9].

Ideally, we want to provide an environment that is more hospitable to the good versus the bad bugs. Our body is their home, and they derive nourishment from the foods we eat, including honey. Good bugs include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli [10]. We can assist them by providing foods and sugars that encourage their growth [11]. These are known as prebiotics:

“a selectively fermented ingredient that results in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefits upon host health” [12].

Honeydew honey contains lower amounts of simple sugars and many more complex sugars when compared to nectar honey. These complex sugars are called polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. These can account for up to 15% of the total amount of honey [13], and include ones you might never have heard of:

  • Maltulose
  • Maltotriose
  • Turanose
  • Panose
  • Raffinose
  • Melezitose
  • Kestose
  • Maltotriosucrose

Some of the sugars we see are so novel that we haven’t been able to identify them!

Due to their size and how these sugars are put together, they are able to travel through the digestive tract where they can provide nourishment for beneficial bacteria [14, 15]. There are a lot of ongoing studies as to the benefits of these sugars, and our knowledge is always evolving. We’ll keep you posted.


1. National Institutes of Health. (2012). NIH Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. [online] Available at:,vital%20role%20in%20human%20health. [Accessed 10 August 2022].

2. Arumugam, M., Raes, J., Pelletier, E., Le Paslier, D., Yamada, T., Mende, D. R., Fernandes, G. R., Tap, J., Bruls, T., Batto, J.-M., Bertalan, M., Borruel, N., Casellas, F., Fernandez, L., Gautier, L., Hansen, T., Hattori, M., Hayashi, T., … Bork, P. (2011). Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome. Nature, 473(7346), 174–180.

3. Weltens, N., Iven, J., Van Oudenhove, L., & Kano, M. (2018). The gut-brain axis in health neuroscience: Implications for functional gastrointestinal disorders and appetite regulation: The gut-brain axis in health neuroscience. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1428(1), 129–150.

4. Valles-Colomer, M., Falony, G., Darzi, Y., Tigchelaar, E. F., Wang, J., Tito, R. Y., Schiweck, C., Kurilshikov, A., Joossens, M., Wijmenga, C., Claes, S., Van Oudenhove, L., Zhernakova, A., Vieira-Silva, S., & Raes, J. (2019). The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nature Microbiology, 4(4), 623–632.

5. Durack, J., & Lynch, S. V. (2019). The gut microbiome: Relationships with disease and opportunities for therapy. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 216(1), 20–40.

6. Gurung, M., Li, Z., You, H., Rodrigues, R., Jump, D. B., Morgun, A., & Shulzhenko, N. (2020). Role of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes pathophysiology. EBioMedicine, 51, 102590.

7. Bonfrate, L., Tack, J., Grattagliano, I., Cuomo, R., & Portincasa, P. (2013). Microbiota in health and irritable bowel syndrome: Current knowledge, perspectives and therapeutic options. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 48(9), 995–1009.

8. Shreiner, A. B., Kao, J. Y., & Young, V. B. (2015). The gut microbiome in health and in disease: Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 31(1), 69–75.

9. Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., & Wahab, M. S. A. (2012). Honey—A Novel Antidiabetic Agent. International Journal of Biological Sciences, 8(6), 913–934.

10. O’Callaghan, A., & van Sinderen, D. (2016). Bifidobacteria and Their Role as Members of the Human Gut Microbiota. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7.

11. Mohan, A., Quek, S.-Y., Gutierrez-Maddox, N., Gao, Y., & Shu, Q. (2017). Effect of honey in improving the gut microbial balance. Food Quality and Safety.

12. Gibson, G. R., Scott, K. P., Rastall, R. A., Tuohy, K. M., Hotchkiss, A., Dubert-Ferrandon, A., Gareau, M., Murphy, E. F., Saulnier, D., Loh, G., Macfarlane, S., Delzenne, N., Ringel, Y., Kozianowski, G., Dickmann, R., Lenoir-Wijnkoop, I., Walker, C., & Buddington, R. (2010). Dietary prebiotics: Current status and new definition. Food Science & Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods, 7(1), 1–19.

13. Airborne Honey Ltd. (2021). Oligosaccharride composition of honey. Internal Research Project.

14. Leite JDC, Trugo LC, Costa LSM, Quinteiro LMC, Barth OM, Dutra VML, De Maria CAB (2000) Determination of oligosaccharides in Brazilian honeys of different botanical origin. Food Chem 70(1):93–98

15. Mei, J., & Nordin, M. (n.d.). Fructooligosaccharides in honey and effects of honey on growth of Bifidobacterium longum BB 536. 5.


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