Does honey cause stomach pain?

Monday February 11 2019


By Dr Vincent Karuhanga

To avoid getting diabetes, I substituted sugar with honey. However, I get stomach pain whenever I take honey. Why?

Dear Flora
Nowadays, honey is being used as a substitute for sugar which is thought to be responsible for many health problems including diabetes. Sugar in itself does not cause diabetes but one at risk of diabetes should minimise taking it. Honey is produced by bees from nectar in flowers. In Uganda, people take unprocessed honey for fear that processing involves adding sugar, the reason many prefer it raw and unprocessed.

Raw, unprocessed honey may unfortunately contain many impurities including spores of germs (bacteria) and pollens which are naturally inside the honey risking allergic reactions and food poisoning.
Unprocessed honey may also contain pesticides, insecticides and lots of other chemicals that one may react to resulting in abdominal bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and itchy skin rashes. Because honey may contain botulism spores, it can lead to food poisoning in adults.

Infants (children below one year), have an immature digestive system, which means they cannot handle botulinus spores leading to a condition known as botulism (whose signs and symptoms include constipation, weakness, listlessness and loss of appetite). In the extreme, botulism can lead to muscle paralysis and eventual death, a risk requiring that children under 12 months, pregnant or breastfeeding women should not consume honey.

Honey is slightly acidic worsening heartburn and peptic ulcer-like pain in those already prone to heartburn or those having peptic ulcer disease. Honey is also very sweet because it contains lots of fructose and glucose. This much fructose may not be well absorbed from the intestines hence reaching the big intestines where it will get fermented by bacteria and fungi producing lots of gas.
This can cause bloating, and abdominal cramps. You require switching to processed honey or minimising the amounts of honey you consume instead of avoiding honey since it has a number of nutritional benefits.