For thousands of years, honey has been recognized as a healing substance, and today it’s popular for soothing sore throats and coughs. But a newer type of honey, Manuka from New Zealand, is stealing the show, with unique qualities that not only enhance health and beauty, but also could solve much of the world’s problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Pronounced “ma-NOO-ka,” this honey didn’t exist until European settlers brought honey bees to New Zealand in 1839 and those bees started collecting nectar from Manuka shrubs and trees, which are indigenous in that country and parts of Australia. Years later, in 1981, the special properties of Manuka honey began to be identified.
In addition to containing a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all honey in its unprocessed state is antibacterial. But Manuka has additional, potent bacteria-fighting qualities. When used topically in dressings of burns and other wounds, its special antibacterial action can resolve even severe, stubborn infections that defy today’s powerful antibiotics.
The usual antibacterial qualities of all honey come from its naturally occurring, antiseptic hydrogen peroxide content. Heat, light, and an enzyme in human saliva, blood, and tissues can degrade the action of the peroxide. While Manuka honey also has this property, it contains another, more powerful antibacterial substance called methylglyoxal, or MGO. This antibacterial property, it turns out, is not affected by heat, light, or any substance in the human body, and that’s what gives Manuka its special power.
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So far, researchers have identified more than 80 species of bacteria inhibited by Manuka honey, including MRSA, which causes infections in various parts of the body and is especially resistant to antibiotics. “No instances of honey-resistant bacteria have been reported to date, or seem likely,” says Sarah Maddocks, PhD, a Manuka researcher at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. Manuka can also reverse antibiotic resistance, enhance the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment, or be an alternative to antibiotics in wound treatment.
The researchers who originally discovered the unique mechanism of Manuka honey, at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, also discovered these benefits:
- Manuka honey enhances immunity by stimulating white blood cells.
- It acts as an antioxidant and prevents damaging free radicals from forming.
- In tests of different honeys, the anti-inflammatory action of Manuka was, on average, four times as potent as others.
- As a sweetener, Manuka is healthier than sugar for arteries, immunity, weight, and staying mentally sharp.
- It kills bad gut bacteria, but not beneficial ones, and can soothe digestive upset.
- It fights harmful bacteria in the mouth, which cause gum disease.
- It fights some viruses that cause respiratory infections.
Other research has found that honey can help relieve allergies, improve sleep, enhance mental function, and contributes to better blood-sugar control than other sources of sugar.
How to Benefit
Use Manuka honey for sore throats, colds, coughs, sinus infections, and topical treatment of cold sores and wounds, including cuts, scrapes, and blisters from new shoes. Raw Manuka honey is available in jars and single-serve packs, and as an ingredient in lozenges, cough syrups, lotions, creams, balms, and soaps. To ward off an infection, take a teaspoon of honey once or more daily. For treatment, use a Manuka honey with a higher antimicrobial rating and take it several times a day. To treat wounds, medical professionals recommend using an irradiated form of honey, but honey out of the jar is routinely used topically to treat wounds and speed up healing. It may not be suitable for anyone allergic to bee products.
Did you know...
To produce a 500 mg (1.1-lb.) jar of honey, bees visit about 2 million flowers.
Manuka Honey Ratings
The strength of antimicrobial content of Manuka honeys varies, depending on season, climate, and which trees or bushes a honey came from, and not all have unique antibacterial qualities. Manuka honey can be mixed with honeys from other plants, as bees collect nectar from whatever plants exist in their vicinity, and producers can combine different honeys for blends. Only testing can reveal the degree of antibacterial power in a specific Manuka honey.
The New Zealand government sets standards for testing and labeling. On a jar of Manuka honey, look for:
- A number identifying the lot or batch number.
- A number that designates strength of antimicrobial activity. A 5+ is the basic level; 10+ or higher indicates more potent therapeutic properties. Some honeys list a number and “UMF,” for Unique Manuka Factor, a trademarked system in which three components of Manuka honey are tested.
- The number may represent MGO, in which case 30 is comparable to 5+, 100 to 10+, 250 to 15+, and 400 to 20+.
- Other products may list results of tests for Manuka pollen purity rather than antimicrobial strength, so the numbers will have a different meaning.
- The honey should be produced and packed into jars in New Zealand.
Manuka honey enhances immunity by stimulating white blood cells.