Before we dive into the world of honey as an antioxidant, let's define some terms. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits oxidation or the effects of oxidation on living cells. Oxidation occurs when a cell is exposed to or combined with oxygen, ultimately resulting in its deterioration. One way oxidation can be assessed is by measuring levels of reactive oxygen species, or ROS. ROS levels increase during times of environmental stress or oxidation, resulting in oxidative stress and the degradation of the cell. This type of oxidative stress can lead to numerous physical pathologies, from cancer to asthma to hypertension.
That's where honey comes in. Honey contains high levels of polyphenols, which have been found to reduce ROS levels effectively in cells. Polyphenols are plant compounds that act as antioxidant agents in the body and have been found in abundance in honey, with darker honeys found to have a higher phenolic content and antioxidant capacity. Epidemiological studies also show that polyphenols have potent effects in the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, these same antioxidants serve to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by keeping cholesterol out of the lining of the blood vessels. Oxidative stress has also been shown to cause inflammation, internally and externally—another arena in which honey has proved effective for treatment.
While honey on its own is obviously not going to cure cancer or heart disease, the studies clearly suggest a strong benefit of incorporating honey into your regular diet.