Manuka Honey

Medically Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on September 18, 2023
3 min read

Manuka honey is made in Australia and New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native leptospermum scoparium bush (also known as a tea tree). Advocates say it can treat wound infections and other conditions.

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 the body against damage caused by bacteria. Some honeys also boost the production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. Manuka honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can help ease pain and inflammation.

However, 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.

Hydrogen peroxide gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types, including Manuka honey, also have unique antimicrobial qualities.

One of the major antibacterial components of Manuka honey is a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO). MGO comes from the conversion of another compound in Manuka honey known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a high concentration of which is found in the nectar of Manuka flowers.

The higher the concentration of MGO, the stronger the antibacterial effect.

Honey producers have a scale for rating the potency of Manuka honey. The rating is called UMFTM, which stands for Unique Manuka Factor.

The UMFTM rating reflects the concentration of 3 signature compounds found in genuine Manuka honey, MGO, DHA, and leptosperin. To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, Manuka honey needs a minimum rating of UMF™ 10+. However, doctors and researchers aren’t sure if this rating means anything from a medical standpoint

The main medical use for Manuka honey is for wound and burn healing. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns. Research shows Manuka honey to be effective in treating other conditions, including:

  • Skin conditions including eczema and dermatitis
  • Soothing a cough or sore throat
  • Digestive Health

But the evidence is limited on whether it works for these conditions.

The honey used to treat wounds is 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.

Several recent studies show Manuka honey can be helpful when it’s used on wounds and leg ulcers. Studies also show it might fight infection and boost healing.

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 study suggests that Manuka honey may help prevent gingivitis and other periodontal disease by reducing the buildup of plaque. In some studies, Manuka honey seemed to help prevent inflammation in the esophagus caused by radiation and chemotherapy used for cancer.

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.

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. Furthermore, no major studies have looked at the effect of Manuka honey on cancer, diabetes, or fungal infections.

These may include:

  • Allergic reaction, especially in people who are allergic to bees
  • A rise in blood sugar if large quantities are consumed
  • Effects on certain chemotherapy drugs and interactions with various other medicines.