If you’ve noticed an increasing number of drugstores and cosmetic products touting the benefits of Manuka honey, the odds are you are not alone. A number of products are emerging infused with Manuka honey, including throat lozenges, cough syrup, skin moisturizer and even band-aids to name a few. You may be wondering if the medicinal properties of honey are all they are claimed to be and whether they warrant the lofty prices that often accompany these products.
Manuka honey is proving to be one of modern medicine’s little miracles. Research substantiating its use to treat eczema, acne, burns, wounds, ulcers, allergies, urinary tract infections, reflux, sore throat and immunity continues to emerge.
In addition, Manuka honey has potential for combatting drug resistant bacteria, an increasing and serious problem.
Used in wound care for centuries, honey fell out favor as alternative remedy in the 1930s and 1940s with the advent of antibiotics; however, its benefits are increasingly being recognized scientifically. In addition to acting as a barrier and preventing cross contamination, honey has been appreciated for its ability to speed wound healing, reduce pain and inflammation and minimize scar formation. Recent evidence suggests synergistic effects in combined treatments using lower doses of antibiotic plus medicinal honey. If effective, this method of treatment could aid in preventing resistance, as well as reducing costs and side effects associated with antibiotic use.
The CDC estimates as many as 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with drug resistant bacteria each year, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths. Medical grade Manuka honey has demonstrated in vitro biofilm inhibition and susceptibility to over 80 bacterial species, including drug resistant pathogens such as:
- MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
- MSSA (methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus)
- VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci)
- Clostridium difficile (associated with severe bowel inflammation)
- Helicobacter Pylori (associated with stomach ulcers)
What’s special about manuka honey? All honeys are understood to possess anti-microbial properties. The high sugar content (high osmolarity), low pH and generation of hydrogen peroxide is what makes honey inhospitable for bacteria to thrive. But let’s be clear: not all floral honeys are created equal. Variation in honey is due, in part, to the honey’s botanical source, biochemical components, as well as to climate and geographical differences.
The honey derived from the manuka plant (Leptospermum scoparium), native to New Zealand, harbors phytonutrients four times that of other floral honeys. Additional bioactive compounds, methylglyoxal and methyl syringate, contribute to the non-peroxide activity unique to Manuka honey and protect it from potential enzymatic degradation. The concentration of methylglyoxal, noted for its unique anti-microbial properties, has been documented to be 100 times greater in Manuka honey than in any other functional food, a factor that has health scientists and pharmaceutical companies taking note.
How is Manuka honey graded? The UMF Honey Association, New Zealand’s leading authority on Manuka honey, established and trademarked a grading system that can be found on many product labels. Their trademarked logo and numeric assignment refers to the non-peroxide factor attributed to the bioactive compounds leptosperin and methylglyoxal. The grades range from UMF5+ to UMF20+. Grades 10+ and above are noted for having medicinal properties. Generally, darker honeys carry a higher concentration of antioxidants. The association advises consumers to check product labels for the UMF® quality mark, the New Zealand producer’s name, UMF license and batch number to ensure it is genuine Manuka honey.
Clinical-use Manuka honey is formulated and often prepared with an additive such as wax or oil relative for its use and application. MedihoneyTM, which has been sterilized using gamma irradiation and engineered to enhance anti-oxidant properties, is finding its way into several clinical applications where its antimicrobial properties show promise in treating chronic wounds and drug resistant infections.
What about non-medical options? While medical grade Manuka honey is uniquely formulated, the health benefits of consumer grade UMF® 10+ and above should not be overlooked. The anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties can be beneficial to treat topical ailments and disorders affecting mucosal membranes.
Safety precautions: It should be noted that medicinal honey is not for individuals with allergy to honey or bee products. Individuals with sugar metabolism imbalances, including diabetes, should monitor blood sugar with increased consumption of honey. Topical use can be “patch tested” prior to broad application. Due to its acidity, a mild stinging sensation of short duration is not uncommon.
This article was contributed by Susan Bentsen (BSN, RN, IFMCPc), a nutrition resident with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald. Susan is currently completing a Master’s of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine at the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and is a licensed Registered Nurse. Dedicated to assisting others find lasting solutions to chronic health issues, she believes diet and lifestyle have a profound impact on health and vitality. Susan combines her knowledge of Functional Nutrition with clinical nursing experience to provide practical strategies to help people of all ages realize their health goals.