Not so sweet: how too much honey can cause diarrhea

Honey can cause diarrhea if you eat too much at once.

It’s easy to eat too much honey, especially from your first harvest. But take it easy: too much honey eaten at once can cause diarrhea.

Forget honey bee dysentery, I’m talking about humans here. Today my heart went out to a regular reader who wrote:

Earlier in the week I crushed and strained a couple of frames of honey I had stored from the late summer surplus. It was the first time I’ve harvested any honey from the bees I keep. Wow. It tasted fabulous. I spooned it up and chewed wax throughout the day like gum. Yummy.

I sterilized the jars and lids, but I didn’t do a pressure seal after I strained the honey into them, all the while licking, chewing, slurping, and generally making a pig of myself with the honey and comb. About 32 hours later I started to have stomach pain which evolved into cramps, and then I had the runs. A classic case of food poisoning. I hadn’t eaten anything else in the previous 72 hours that might have caused it, so I assume it was the honey. The comb was dark, but I didn’t think that made a difference in the quality of the honey.

She wanted to know if I thought the honey was bad or if she had just eaten too much. She also wanted to know if it was safe to give away or if she should save it for people she doesn’t like. A girl after my own heart.

Fructose intolerance causes diarrhea in humans

I remembered reading that too much sugar can cause diarrhea, but once I got on the web I found many references to fructose intolerance. It seems that we humans are not all that good at digesting fructose, but we are fine with small quantities, especially when it is mixed with other foods.

But eaten in excess, any food high in fructose—including honey, fruit juices, and drinks with high-fructose corn syrup—can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. And, as with most things, some individuals are more sensitive than others.

Also, honey varies in the amount of fructose it contains, so some honey may cause diarrhea sooner than others. As a rule of thumb, tree honey has lots of fructose, which is why crystallization happens slowly. Honey from forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) often contains less fructose and granulates more quickly.

To prevent diarrhea, eat small quantities of honey at a time

If you’re not going to pig out on your honey, none of this matters much. If you eat honey in moderation, any floral source should be fine.

So, based on her descriptions—and remembering my own first harvest—I think the writer just ate too much all at once and probably didn’t eat enough other stuff with it. No doubt her honey is just fine and she doesn’t have to save it for anyone in particular. In fact, if she were looking for guinea pig tasters, I’d be the first to volunteer.

Since there are lots of first-time harvesters out there, I thought this issue was worth a mention. The moral of the story is to take it slow and easy. Savor the flavor. Don’t let your innards have the last word.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Don’t forget that many hives can contain botulism to which the bees are immune but you are not…

    Your problems with dysentery are why it’s strongly advised that small children under 1 year old are not given honey. You have a mature immune system that can deal with botulism – eventually. Small children don’t hence the warnings…

    It’s also the reason why it’s important to immediately treat any cuts you may get on or near a bee hive as there have been cases of beekeepers almost dying from blood poisoning from botulism that gets into a cut.

    • Honey may contain botulism spores, but adults are not affected by these because the digestive tract keeps them in check. In children under one year, the spores may grow in the intestine and produce botulism toxin, but not in adults. Also, the writer didn’t have dysentery, she had diarrhea. Different. Also, botulism doesn’t cause diarrhea, but is apt to cause constipation.

      Botulism is a very common bacteria that is everywhere in the soil. It is the toxin, produced under anaerobic conditions, not the spore, that causes problems. Although spores can enter a wound and grow there, is no more likely to happen to beekeepers than gardeners, campers, farmers, or just about anyone working outside. Botulism spores cannot grow into toxin-producing bacteria in honey. In fact, honey is used on wounds to prevent such things.

  • When I was a tad, I loved roaming the sugar bushes in the spring, but was always warned not to drink too much sap from the sap collecting buckets (it is delicious, like clear, cold, sweet water) as it would cause gastric distress and diarrhea. Mercifully I was immune and guzzled freely…my younger brother could not without suffering the threatened gastric consequences. Ingesting large amounts of sugars is an old remedy for constipation.

  • Woo! I just googled this because I gulped down almost a full jar of honey yesterday and [deleted] it’s like Niagara Falls now (sorry to be graphic). But [deleted] I guess I know what to do about constipation from now on.

  • Rusty,

    I won’t dispute the effects of too much fructose, but she also mentions chewing wax throughout the day. Did she swallow some or all of it? Indigestable, what are the effects of too much wax?

  • I too had a tablespoon of honey with half a litre of redbush tea right before bedtime. Around
    4 a.m. I was farting a fair few times and went to the toilet not too long after.

    • Yes,I take a tablespoon with hot water in morning and night and it hit me with diarrhea, so I will quite that for a while.

  • Last night I drizzled honey on both pieces of an English muffin and was on the pot for 2 1/2 hours. That’s the last time I’ll have honey! The honey article has helped .

    • Barbara, sugars are natural stool softeners, although your reaction to a modest serving of honey is unusual. Sugars are a large part of the reason prune juice is a good laxative, and when I was a tad, we were cautioned not to slurp too much sap from the maple syrup buckets as it would give us diarrhea. But I could slurp to my heart’s content, no issues at all, while my younger brother would always be found out thanks to the bathroom time that ensued. So I think each of us has different tolerances to sugars to begin with. In addition, some sugars are harder for human guts to contend with than others….if you have a diabetic in your family, you will be familiar with diabetic cookies and candies, which rely on the sugar maltose for their sweetness. Maltose is a prime example of a sugar that humans can’t deal with in any quantity, and which results in that dreaded bathroom time. So it may also be that your honey snack had a sugar profile that was particularly difficult for your gut…all honeys have slightly different sugar profiles, and some have more of the difficult to digest sorts of sugars.

      • Western,

        Interesting about the maltose. I was just reading some research that said maltose was the third most common sugar in honey, after fructose and glucose. Like you say, the proportions vary according to the nectar source, so not all honey will be high in maltose. Maybe Barbara just got a high-maltose type. I, too, thought that the amount eaten was modest. I can eat honey all day with no effect at all.

  • I have diarrhea and just googled this article to see if I could have some honey on my B.R.A.T. diet for Diarrhea. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast (dry). I haven’t eaten for two days and normally deal well with honey but now I’m not sure!

  • I had way more honey than usual yesterday and this morning. Now I have diarrhea bad. Googled it to see if any connection, now I will monitor my honey intake.

  • I was told by a very experienced local beekeeper that pesticides and other chemicals on plants can get brought back to the hive and then concentrate down into the honey over time. Reactions of all sorts (allergy, diarrhea, etc) can be to the concentrated toxins, and not the honey itself. Is this true?

    • Perry,

      I don’t know what you mean by “very experienced” but he doesn’t sound very knowledgeable. Pesticides and other chemicals used on plants are nearly all lipophilic rather than hydrophilic, meaning they dissolve in oil, not water. Since honey is water-based, it very seldom contains these products. When those chemicals are found in bee hives, they are usually found in wax combs that have been used repeatedly, and sometimes in the fatty parts of the bee’s body. Honey nearly always tests clean. I say “nearly” because I’m sure you could find an exception somewhere for some product if you looked hard enough. I can’t figure out why a beekeeper would tell you stuff that is patently untrue. He must have a hidden agenda.

      On a side note, honey can cause diarrhea, but it’s not from poison. Eating large quantities of sugar from any source (such as too much candy) will frequently cause diarrhea.

  • Personally I’ve grow able to eat more honey by increasing the amount each day. I also rotate types. Always as raw as possible. The wax doesn’t seem to do well though. For what it’s worth.

  • I’ve had lots of honey for many decades and have had prolonged periods of what I thought was IBS with diarrhea over decades too. I’m now going to cut down on it and see what happens. My life has been restricted to hardly ever leaving the house. I am nearly 80 and hope this will enable me to start to live again. If so. I will be extremely grateful I found this forum on my mobile. I have never even suspected honey as I eat organic. I will let you know if I have any success as the present bout is keeping going after 5 weeks now.

  • Jill, sugars of any sort in large quantities can cause diarrhea. So along with restricting honey intake, don’t forget other sources ie juices, baked goods, fruit leathers etc. Another big cause of digestive upset along these lines are the contents of “diet” sweets or “no sugar added” chocolates and candies. They often use sugars like maltose that our digestive systems do not break down. That makes them safe for diabetics, but eaten in quantity they can cause cramping and diarrhea as well. If you are housebound with persistent diarrhea/IBS then perhaps a good consult with a dietician would be helpful.

  • Thank you Janet and Rusty for your texts. However no difference yet but it’s probably a bit too early to expect any change. I’m going to stick to cutting down on honey and watch sugars in general too. One thing I’m also going to try and cut out is my piece of M&S coffee cake every day as it has a lot of sweet coffee creme in it.

  • Hi Rusty

    This is so helpful. I’ve been having some issues with my digestion and so been looking at my diet. Everything in my diet is pretty balanced but I LOVE honey with yoghurt most days – that’s why I searched for a possible link between honey and digestive issues. Time to lay off the honey fix 🙁 ……maybe just every other day! 😉

  • I don’t think the gas has anything to do with eating too much sugar, it’s too much fructose, not sugar. I used to eat sugar all day but barely have any now, for weight loss. I recently started eating honey in my cereal, then on my toast, then, on bananas as a snack. I started not being able to sleep because of gas. Every time I’d lay down, I’d get bad gas. I thought about what I’d been doing differently lately and remembered the honey. I’ve stopped eating it for two days and I slept all night for the first time in a couple of weeks. Thank you for this article.

    • Anthony,

      Just to clarity, fructose is a sugar. It’s one of the two sugars, along with glucose, that combine to form sucrose or table sugar.

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