Maple Syrup’s Health Benefits Continue to be Revealed

The production of maple syrup, having long been sought for its taste, is synonymous with New England. Making a gallon of the coveted and increasingly medicinal syrup takes 40 gallons of sap. (Photo from the Library of Congress)

By Lura Jackson

Before Maine existed as a state – and indeed, long before Europeans arrived – the residents of this area prized maple syrup for its uniquely sweet flavor and its ability to combat diseases. Now, the ability of the long-coveted sweet syrup to cure an increasingly wide range of maladies – including cancer, superbugs, liver failure and more – is being studied by the medical industry at large.

The medicinal benefits of maple syrup were once lauded primarily in folklore, with traditional remedies prescribing it as a cure for the cold. Native Americans chewed on maple sticks customarily to ward off disease. Over in Rome, meanwhile, Pliny the Elder identified it as a means of healing the liver. But it’s taken modern science to determine how and why maple syrup is helpful.

Maple sap contains vitamin C, which is why it can be curative to inhale the steam during the boiling process or to chew on maple sticks to cure a cold or combat crippling ailments like scurvy. While the boiling process removes this benefit, it leads to a host of other possibilities for the dark amber syrup.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Rhode Island confirmed that maple syrup contains 20 beneficial compounds that promote human health, either by being anti-cancer, anti-bacterial or anti-diabetic. Thirteen of those compounds were identified for the first time in maple syrup. Since then, the news has only continued to improve.

In 2011, researchers from the University of Tokyo found “significantly better results in liver function tests” between healthy rats administered pure maple syrup and another sugar-based syrup product. Liver disease that isn’t associated with alcohol consumption affects approximately one in four Americans today, making it a profoundly beneficial addition to the diet. Another Japanese team found in 2015 that maple syrup actively works to counter colon cancer and is exploring it as an alternative treatment option in some cases.

With an increasingly aging population, substances that improve brain health are becoming more and more important. Pure maple syrup has been identified in two separate studies for its ability to combat neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Finally, research presented to the American Chemical Society in 2017 reveals that maple syrup added to a cocktail with antibiotics improves their efficacy in remarkable ways. The study found that the antibiotics with added maple syrup were as effective as the non-maple doses – even after the amount of antibiotics involved was decreased by 90 percent.

 

Research related to maple syrup is continuing to build, but in the meantime it seems like a valuable addition – added in moderation – to any health-focused diet. Researchers commonly agree that the darkest available form of syrup is the most beneficial, meaning those looking to achieve the greatest benefit will likely need to head to a local sugar shack for the most potent form of the syrup when it begins to run in the next few weeks.