The effects of long-term honey, sucrose or sugar-free diets on memory and anxiety in rats

Physiol Behav. 2009 Jun 22;97(3-4):359-68. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.03.001. Epub 2009 Mar 16.


Sucrose is considered by many to be detrimental to health, giving rise to deterioration of the body associated with ageing. This study was undertaken to determine whether replacing sucrose in the diet long-term with honey that has a high antioxidant content could decrease deterioration in brain function during ageing. Forty-five 2-month old Sprague Dawley rats were fed ad libitum for 52 weeks on a powdered diet that was either sugar-free or contained 7.9% sucrose or 10% honey (which is the equivalent amount of sugar). Anxiety levels were assessed using an Elevated Plus Maze, whilst a Y maze and an Object Recognition task were used to assess memory. Locomotor activity was also measured using an Open Field task to ensure that differences in activity levels did not bias results in the other tasks. Anxiety generally decreased overall from 3 to 12 months, but the honey-fed rats showed significantly less anxiety at all stages of ageing compared with those fed sucrose. Honey-fed animals also displayed better spatial memory throughout the 12-month period: at 9 and 12 months a significantly greater proportion of honey-fed rats recognised the novel arm as the unvisited arm of the maze compared to rats on a sugar-free or sucrose-based diet. No significant differences among groups were observed in the Object Recognition task, and there appeared to be no differences in locomotor activity among groups at either 6 or 12 months. In conclusion, it appears that consumption of honey may reduce anxiety and improve spatial memory in middle age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / diet therapy*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Honey*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects
  • Sucrose / pharmacology*
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Sucrose