New Study Examines The Role Honey Could Play In Treating Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is a terrifying prospect for older Americans, with its slow cognitive decline, loss of brain function, and inevitably fatal consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's estimated that as many as 5.8 million people currently suffer from the disease (and lesser known types of dementia) in the U.S., the overwhelming majority of whom are 65 years old or older. But the number of those afflicted by dementia nationally and worldwide is growing rapidly (with numbers outpacing any other disease), according to a recent study published in Nutrients – a peer-reviewed journal of nutrition — which estimates up to 100 million people will be affected on a global scale by 2050.

Unless there are groundbreaking medical advances, that is. There is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease, although there is hope that the neurodegenerative issues caused by the disease can be treated, and not just in the latter stages. One surprising new potential preventative treatment option is an item more commonly associated with supermarket shelves: honey. The Nutrients study, "Honeys as Possible Sources of Cholinesterase Inhibitors," looked at 19 different types of honey to determine their possible efficacy in helping to prevent the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease, and the results were extremely promising.

The connection between honey and memory

Scientific explanations can be incredibly abstruse, so let's first explain a couple of difficult terms. Cholinesterase inhibitors are drugs or other medical treatments which help to prevent the decay of acetylcholine, per RxList. The latter is a chemical critical as a neurotransmitter in the body. Polyphenols, meanwhile, are organic chemical compounds which are found in plants and natural products like honey, according to Medical News Today. Polyphenols are often lauded for their antioxidant properties, and that's certainly the case with those found in honey, the Nutrients study observes. Honey's polyphenols aren't just antioxidant rich, however, they're also anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and have shown positive effects relative to memory. As the study notes: "It has also been demonstrated that honey may play a key role in memory enhancement and may also be used as an agent preventing dementia."

Which of the 19 honeys tested best as cholinesterase inhibitors in the study? Thyme and goldenrod honey were singled out, and given that the current drug treatments are only administered after an Alzheimer's diagnosis has been made, these types of honey in particular show real potential as preventative, food-based cholinesterase inhibitors. In light of the positive results, the authors of the study conclude that honey has significant potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Per Nutrients, the next step is a more in-depth study of the honeys which seem most promising in this regard.