For thousands of years, honey has been recognized as a healing substance, but a newer type of honey, Manuka from New Zealand, is currently stealing the show. Its unique qualities not only enhance health and beauty, but could also solve much of the world's problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Pronounced "ma-NOO-ka," this honey didn't exist until European settlers brought honeybees to New Zealand in 1839, and those bees started collecting nectar from Manuka shrubs and trees, which are indigenous to that country and parts of Australia. But it wasn't until 1981 that the special properties of Manuka honey began to be identified.
What Makes Manuka Honey Special?
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 for burns and other wounds, its special antibacterial action resolves even severe, stubborn infections that defy today's powerful antibiotics.
The usual antibacterial qualities in 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 this peroxide. While Manuka honey also has this property, it contains another, more powerful antibacterial substance called methylglyoxal, or MGO. This antibacterial, 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.
So far, researchers have identified more than 80 species of bacteria that can be inhibited by Manuka honey, including MRSA, which 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 used as an alternative to antibiotics in wound treatment.
More Manuka Honey Benefits
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 also soothe digestive upsets.
- 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 contribute to better blood-sugar control.
Did You Know? To produce a 500 gm (1.1-lb) jar of honey, bees visit about 2 million flowers.
How to Benefit from Manuka Honey
Use it 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 (see "Manuka Honey Ratings," above) 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.
Manuka Honey Ratings
The strength of antimicrobial content of Manuka honeys varies depending on the season and climate in which it's harvested, and which trees or bushes the honey comes from. And not all available products 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 types of honey for blends. Only testing can reveal the degree of antibacterial power in a specific Manuka honey.
The government of New Zealand sets standards for testing and labeling. On a jar of Manuka honey, look for:
- A number identifying the lot or batch.
- 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 where 3 components of Manuka honey are tested. In this 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.
- Regardless of how it's tested, the honey should be produced and packed into jars in New Zealand.