Manuka honey is made in Australia and New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native manuka bush. Advocates say it can treat wound infections and other conditions.
Healing Power of Honey
Honey has been used since ancient times to treat multiple conditions. It wasn't until the late 19th century that researchers discovered that honey has natural antibacterial qualities.
Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Some also boost production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. And honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly ease pain and inflammation.
But not all honey is the same. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it's harvested. Some kinds may be 100 times more potent than others.
Components of Manuka Honey
Hydrogen peroxide gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types, including manuka honey, also have other ingredients with antibacterial qualities.
The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.
In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound, dihydroxyacetone, that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.
The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect.
Honey producers have a scale for rating the potency of manuka honey. The rating is called UMF, which stands for Unique Manuka Factor.
The UMF rating reflects the concentration of MG. To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF. Honey at or above that level is marketed as "UMF Manuka Honey" or "Active Manuka Honey." But doctors and researchers aren’t sure if this rating means anything from a medical standpoint.
How Manuka Honey Is Used
The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns. Manuka honey is also marketed for use in many other conditions, including:
- Preventing and treating cancer
- Reducing high cholesterol
- Reducing inflammation inside the body
- Treating diabetes
- Treating eye, ear, and sinus infections
- Treating gastrointestinal problems
But the evidence is limited on whether it works for these conditions.
The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey. It is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing. So the jar of manuka honey in the pantry shouldn’t be part of your first aid kit. Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a health care professional.
What the Science Says About Manuka Honey
Several recent studies show manuka honey can be helpful when it’s used on top of wounds and leg ulcers. Studies also show it might fight infection and boost healing.
But not all studies show that it helps heal ulcers. And there is concern that manuka honey may delay healing in people who have ulcers related to diabetes.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database lists honey as being "possibly effective" to treat burns and wounds. The Cochrane Review notes that honey may shorten healing times in mild burns and surgical wounds compared with traditional dressings. But they also say more research needs to be done.
Another recent study suggests that manuka honey may help prevent gingivitis and other periodontal disease by reducing the buildup of plaque. In some early studies, manuka honey seemed to help prevent inflammation in the esophagus from radiation and chemotherapy for cancer, but recent studies haven’t shown that it works better than standard treatments.
Another possible benefit of honey is that, unlike antibiotics, it doesn’t appear to lead to resistant bacteria. These so-called "superbugs" develop after repeated exposure to common antibiotics. Special antibiotics are needed to treat them.
But most of the studies on manuka honey have been with small numbers of people, and so far, research hasn’t shown that manuka honey helps with high cholesterol or balancing the bacteria in the gut. And no major studies have looked at the effect of manuka honey on cancer, diabetes, or fungal infections.