If you’ve been searching for a natural remedy that can treat various ailments, look no further than Manuka honey. This “superfood” has garnered attention for its potential to alleviate allergies, colds, flus, gingivitis, sore throats, staph infections, and a range of other conditions. But that’s not all – it’s also touted to boost energy levels, detoxify the body, lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes, improve sleep, enhance skin tone, reduce hair loss, and even combat frizz and split ends. While some of these claims may seem exaggerated, there is substantial evidence to support others. Let’s explore the proven and unproven benefits of Manuka honey, which is steadily gaining popularity worldwide.
The Medicinal History of Honey
Honey has been used therapeutically throughout history. However, its medicinal properties fell out of favor with the advent of modern antibiotics in the mid-20th century. Nevertheless, the emergence of superbugs, pathogens resistant to one or more antibiotics, has prompted scientific investigation into “alternative approaches.”
We now understand that honey’s traditional popularity as a wound dressing is likely due to its antimicrobial properties. Its high sugar content and low pH inhibit microbial growth, and certain honeys retain their antimicrobial activity even when diluted to insignificant levels.
What Sets Manuka Honey Apart?
Manuka honey, derived from the nectar of the Leptospermum scoparium tree, boasts an additional component that sets it apart from other types of honey – an extraordinary antimicrobial activity. This unique attribute was discovered by Professor Peter Molan in New Zealand in the 1980s when he observed that Manuka honey’s efficacy remained even after the removal of hydrogen peroxide.
In 2008, two independent laboratories identified methylglyoxal (MGO) as a key active component in Manuka honey. MGO is a naturally occurring substance found in various foods, plants, and animal cells, known for its antimicrobial properties.
While Australia has over 80 native Leptospermum species and New Zealand has only one, both countries produce Manuka honey with similar properties. A heated debate between the two nations currently revolves around the rights to use the name “Manuka.” For the sake of simplicity, we will use the term to describe active Leptospermum honey in each country.
Tackling Superbugs with Manuka Honey
Extensive testing has demonstrated Manuka honey’s effectiveness against a wide range of microbes, particularly those responsible for wound infections. It can disperse and kill bacteria residing in biofilms, which are notorious for their antibiotic resistance. This includes streptococci (causing strep throat) and staphylococci (causing Golden Staph infections).
It is important to note that the quantity of MGO varies in different batches of Manuka honey, so not all Manuka honey necessarily exhibits high levels of antimicrobial activity.
Healing Wounds with Manuka Honey
Honey is an ideal and proven wound dressing. Beyond its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, the type of honey we are referring to is non-toxic to mammalian cells. It helps maintain a moist environment at the applied area, which is beneficial for healing. Additionally, it possesses anti-inflammatory properties, accelerates wound healing, removes dead tissues, foreign bodies, and dead immune cells from the wound, and reduces odor.
Honey, especially Manuka honey, has successfully been utilized to treat infected and non-infected wounds, burns, surgical incisions, leg ulcers, pressure sores, traumatic injuries, meningococcal lesions, radiation therapy side effects, and gingivitis.
Is Manuka Honey Edible?
While a small portion of Manuka honey serves different purposes, the majority of Manuka honey sold worldwide is intended for consumption. While it may inhibit bacteria causing pharyngitis or gingivitis, the main components responsible for the antimicrobial activity will not survive the digestion process.
However, consuming honey can still have therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and prebiotic properties that promote the growth of beneficial gut microorganisms. These properties are not exclusive to Manuka honey but can be found in other types of honey as well.
The Limitations of Manuka Honey
There is no scientific evidence that consuming Manuka honey alleviates allergic rhinitis or hay fever symptoms. Most of the pollen responsible for these conditions comes from wind-pollinated plants, which do not produce nectar and are not visited by bees.
Preliminary studies suggest that honey could protect against certain side effects of head and neck radiation therapy, warranting further research. However, claims that Manuka honey can combat cancer remain unverified.
There is no solid scientific evidence that Manuka honey reduces cholesterol, treats diabetes, or improves sleep. However, an interesting study showed that honey was more effective than medication in reducing nighttime coughing in children, improving their sleep quality and that of their parents. Although specifically using Manuka honey was not mentioned, it could be incredibly useful.
The label of “superfood” is more of a marketing gimmick, and claims of Manuka honey’s cosmetic and anti-aging benefits lack scientific foundation.
If you’re purchasing Manuka honey for general everyday use as a food or tonic, there is no need to buy the most active and consequently expensive types. However, the right kind of honey is highly effective as a wound dressing. So, if you plan to use Manuka honey to treat wounds or skin infections, prioritize active, sterile products packaged as medicinal treatments.
To ensure quality, look for products with a CE mark or registration from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (marked with an AUST L / AUST R number).
Manuka honey may not be a panacea or superfood, but it is vastly underutilized as a topical treatment for wounds, ulcers, and burns, especially with the looming global crisis of superbugs.