Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties are said to help cure everything from wounds, to tooth decay, to digestive issues, and even infections from cystic fibrosis. Can this supposed superfood really provide relief from all these ailments?
I don’t know about you, but I am always a sucker for the latest superfood, cure-all, next-best-thing! I love to try products out for myself, but always wonder if it will actually work. And can I do any harm in the process of my personal exploration?
What’s the 411 on Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey, different from regular honey, is being hailed as liquid gold because of the supposed healing and antimicrobial powers of this superfood. The emergence of Manuka popularity comes on the heels of new superbug discoveries claiming that antibiotic-resistant pathogens can be treated with Manuka honey. The medical field has started dealing with these pathogens in alternative ways, thus Manuka honey’s gain in recent popularity due to its ability to slow down or prevent bacterial growth.
However, what comes from a spark? A fire. And the claims of Manuka honey began to spread. Instead of an accurate portrayal of an alternative antimicrobial substance that is under scientific investigation, thanks to social media, we have gone from zero to a hundred in less than 5 seconds.
What are the supposed health claims?
Manuka honey has carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and phenolic and flavonoid compounds. However, what makes Manuka particularly unique are three special ingredients: methylglyoxal, dihydroxyacetone, and leptosperin. MGO is said to fight off several bacteria-related infections. Dihydroxyacetone, a precursor chemical of MGO, is found in the nectar. Leptosperin is a natural chemical from manuka nectar that makes the product shelf-stable. When these ingredients work together, they enable this particular honey to potentially fight off several bacteria-related infections.
The combination of these ingredients is touted to reduce allergies, boost immune function, enhance skin, improve sleep, combat staph infections, reduce IBS, prevent tooth and gum decay, treat infected wounds, burns and ulcers. Sounds like another Celery Juice cure-all!
Is there a scientific foundation for these claims?
To be frank, scientific studies do not exist to support every health claim out there. Investigations into some of the supposed benefits are in the works, but here is what we found on its efficacy…
Evidence for treating all these ailments remains largely anecdotal. However, a few small studies have concluded that Manuka honey can aid in treating gingivitis. By chewing what they refer to as “Manuka honey leather”, plaque was reduced, and ultimately was proven to be a positive treatment for oral health.
The most compelling studies show that Manuka honey can help to inhibit or stop the growth of certain topical bacteria – especially compared to other types of honey. This study showed that when Manuka is used in wound protection, it elicits antibacterial results. Continued study is critical as chronic wounds resistant to antibiotics are a global health issue around the world.
For instance, a friend of mine had a terrible bacteria infection on her face and antibiotic cream didn’t work. She tried Manuka honey – and it disappeared with a week. However, it has been determined that replications to these clinical studies are needed before claims like this can be truly confirmed.
Ultimately, there is little evidence to support the purported benefits. However, it is safe to consume, can be a natural and safe topical antibiotic, and there is likely little harm in trying it. Western medicine often refers to it as a ‘worthless but harmless substance‘. Unless you have a bee allergy, of course – then take caution!
So what exactly is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey comes from the manuka bush, which is indigenous to New Zealand and Australia. Some argue that only the “real” manuka comes from New Zealand. In fact, the two countries are actually in a dispute for the trademark over the health product.
The honey itself comes from the flower nectar on the manuka bush. But both the nectar and the bees together are what give manuka its unique properties. It is thicker in texture than other types of honey. It tastes less sweet, though it can still be used in drinks, as a spread, and for baking.
The UMF Honey Association developed the term UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor, that grades the honey as to whether it meets the UMF Honey Association standards. The ideal score is between 10 and 18, and is based on certain chemical markers unique to the manuka plant. However, more research needs to be done to determine whether this rating has any significance. Brands that use the rating system include Manukora, Comvita, and Happy Valley.
Where can I buy Manuka Honey?
It’s widely available now – even at Walgreens and CVS. In fact, I just bought some at Whole Foods to see if it’ll help my mosquito bites heal. While I could not determine if it was time or the honey that helped heal the bites, it was worth a shot on such a mild affliction.
With its uses spanning from topical application, to cooking, and now in the healthcare spectrum, Manuka is a well-known product to specialty grocery store shelves, as well as many eCommerce sites. It comes in its raw form, in a supplement, and in a variety of products where Manuka honey is the primary or active ingredient. This includes beauty products, throat lozenges, face washes, hair masks and acne treatments.
How can I be sure it’s the real stuff?
For starters, don’t forget that Manuka is currently only made in Australia and New Zealand, so if a label says any other origin, it is likely not real Manuka. Another thing to note is that many labels state that their honey is “natural” or “organic”. These two labels do not mean that the honey is Manuka; you must look for the word “Manuka” in the ingredients list. Another good sign is the cost: Manuka is currently averaging about $30 a jar, or between $50 and $150 for supplements, so if the price you see is less than this average cost, be sure to confirm.
The Bottom Line:
Our society always seems to take it too far too fast! Medicine is still in the discovery stages of the potential for Manuka honey. And while honey has been known to have antibacterial properties for years, the recent hype around Manuka honey has taken things to a whole new level. Except for studies regarding bacteria, evidence around the applications of Manuka remain mostly anecdotal, however no known side effects have been discovered. Essentially, you have nothing to lose, but potentially nothing to gain by trying it.