Does Honey Relieve Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the foods you put on your plate can greatly affect your symptoms.

In fact, making dietary changes is one of the most effective ways to manage IBS symptoms, which include digestive issues like stomach pain, constipation, cramps, and diarrhea.

Honey is often touted as a healthy natural sweetener with powerful medicinal properties thanks to its ability to fight inflammation, prevent bacterial growth, and decrease oxidative stress.

Still, you may wonder whether it helps reduce — or worsens — any IBS symptoms.

This article examines the science to determine whether honey relieves or aggravates symptoms of IBS.

How does honey affect IBS?

Although no specific research exists on honey and IBS, studies demonstrate that this natural sweetener affects several aspects of digestive health.

For instance, one mice study found that honey alleviated constipation by drawing water into the stool and modifying the composition of beneficial bacteria in the animals’ guts.

Thus, by acting as a natural laxative, honey may aid people with IBS who experience symptoms like constipation and bloating.

Keep in mind that research in humans is necessary.

What about manuka honey?

Research shows that manuka honey — which comes from the nectar of the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), a plant native to New Zealand — may offer additional benefits.

In fact, this type of honey may have potent antimicrobial properties, potentially protecting against harmful pathogens and bacteria in your gut.

However, the available research examines honey’s effects on skin infections, not digestive infections, so this effect is theoretical.

According to an older study in rats with ulcerative colitis, administering manuka honey alongside anti-inflammatory medication decreased intestinal inflammation.

Yet, manuka honey contains a compound called methylglyoxal, which was shown to worsen symptoms of IBS like diarrhea in one animal study.

Further human studies are also needed on manuka honey’s effects on IBS.

Both regular and manuka honey have digestive effects that may help relieve IBS symptoms, though the methylglyoxal in manuka honey may worsen symptoms. Overall, more research is needed.

Is honey a high or low FODMAP food?

Fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) are a group of carbs that are poorly absorbed in your gut and instead fermented by the bacteria in your colon.

For people with IBS, eating certain high FODMAP foods may worsen digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and stomach pain.

Honey is high in fructose, a type of simple sugar that’s classified as a FODMAP.

For this reason, people following a low FODMAP diet often limit their intake of honey alongside other foods high in fructose, such as peaches, pears, apples, and cherries.

However, people with IBS may have varying levels of sensitivity to different foods. While some people may find that honey triggers digestive issues, others may have no issues tolerating honey or other high fructose foods.

Honey is high in FODMAPs due to its fructose content. While some people with IBS may be able to tolerate it just fine, others may need to limit their intake to prevent digestive issues.

Should you eat honey if you have IBS?

Due to a lack of research, honey hasn’t been proven to either cause or relieve IBS symptoms. While it may have positive effects on digestion, it’s also considered high in FODMAPs.

Whether it helps relieve symptoms of IBS depends on a number of factors, including the type of honey, how much you eat, and the specific symptoms you’re experiencing.

Additionally, while some people with this condition may have no issues tolerating honey, others may be more sensitive to the effects of foods high in fructose.

Trying a low FODMAP diet may help determine whether honey triggers IBS symptoms. This involves eliminating all high FODMAP foods, including honey, then slowly reintroducing them to your diet.

A low FODMAP diet may help you ascertain whether you’re sensitive to the effects of honey and other high fructose foods.

The bottom line

There’s limited research on how honey, including specific varieties like manuka honey, affects IBS symptoms.

However, honey is high in fructose, which may worsen digestive issues like gas, diarrhea, and bloating among some people with IBS.

Therefore, following an elimination diet like the low FODMAP diet may help you decide whether to avoid honey if you have IBS.