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article imageStudy: Honey as brain food may have fueled evolution

By Martin Laine     Mar 24, 2014 in Science
Anthropologists have long theorized that improved nutrition helped early hominids evolve into the more advanced homo sapiens. In addition to eating more meats and vegetables, a new study suggests honey also played a major role.
About 3 million years ago, there were several types of early hominids. They were anatomically more like later humans than the apes that preceded them, with one big exception. Their brains were still relatively small. Then, about 2.5 million years ago, more modern humans with significantly larger brains began to appear.
According to an article on the Smithsonian website, this has traditionally been attributed to better nutrition — especially the introduction of more meats and vegetables, especially tubers, into their diet. Research has shown that stone tools used for hunting and butchering begin to appear at this same time.
Equally crucial, says Alyssa Crittenden, a behavioral ecologist and nutritional anthropologist, is the role of honey. And while honey is not the sort of thing that leaves any evidence behind — such as animal bones and stone tools — there is plenty of other evidence to support her idea.
First of all, honeybees have been with us for a long time — there are fossilized honey bees dating back 150 million years, according to the Honey Association website. As for human collection and use of honey, rock art depicting honey collection dates back to 40,000 years ago, and can be found in Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
The health and medicinal benefits have long been known. But honey is especially important to the health of the brain. According to an article on the Franklin Institute website, honey is rich in glucose, a form of sugar that fuels the mitochondria that power the brain’s neurons. Because the brain has no ability to store glucose, it needs a steady supply in order to keep functioning properly.
On a daily basis, we also get glucose from the starches and carbohydrates in our regular diet.
Crittenden also speculates that the ability of early humans to collect honey would have improved along with the development of better tools and the use of fire.
More about Honey, Alyssa Crittenden, Evolution
 
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