What Are the Benefits of Manuka Honey?

Published April 20th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera

Honey has been used as a healing remedy since ancient times.

Manuka honey is a unique type of honey that is produced in New Zealand and Australia as it is made by bees from the nectar of the Manuka tree or shrub, which is native to those countries.

What makes Manuka honey special is its high level of methylglyoxal (MGO), which is a compound that has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and the Manuka honey rating system measures the level of MGO in Manuka honey.

The higher the score, the higher the level of MGO.

In this article, we will explain the benefits of Manuka honey, whether those benefits are proven, and which Manuka honey may be best for you.

What is Manuka honey?

Manuka honey is a type of honey that is produced in New Zealand and Australia. The Manuka tree, also known as the tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium, or New Zealand tea tree, produces a nectar that is used by bees to make Manuka honey.

The European honey bee was introduced to New Zealand and Australia by settlers in the 1800s and they started using the Manuka plant to make honey.

Manuka honey has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits which we will detail below. It should be noted that most Manuka honey is not raw honey.

manuka honey benefits

What is the difference between normal honey and Manuka honey?

Manuka honey is a natural honey that is different from other forms of honey because it has additional medicinal properties due to it containing a higher concentration of the compound methylglyoxal (MGO).

Methylglyoxal inhibits microbial growth and helps give Manuka honey its unique healing properties in treating bacterial infections and microbial infections. It also appears to be thicker and cloudier or opaque than your standard honey.

Besides its healing properties, Manuka honey also tends to be more expensive than your normal honey.

For nutritional value and cooking purposes, honey and Manuka honey can be used interchangeably; however, make sure you are using food-grade honey and not medical-grade honey as the two undergo different processes of refinement.

Most kinds of honey have hydrogen peroxide which is an antimicrobial agent but Manuka honey contains other compounds like methylglyoxal that give it additional antimicrobial activity.

What is the Manuka honey rating system?

The Manuka honey rating system is a way of measuring the concentration of methylglyoxal and other compounds in Manuka honey to ensure its potency and authenticity.

As noted above, methylglyoxal is an antimicrobial compound that gives Manuka honey its unique healing properties. The higher the concentration of methylglyoxal, the higher the rating and the more expensive the honey will be.

Although methylglyoxal is not the only unique compound that is tested for as dihydroxyacetone and leptosperin are also used to authenticate pure Manuka honey and to measure its potency.

The rating system is called the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) and the scale for it is as follows:

  • 0 to 4 on the UMF scale means that the honey has low antibacterial activity and is not Manuka honey
  • 5 to 9 means that there are low levels of the three compounds present and it is still food grade honey
  • 10 to 14 means higher levels are present but this is still food grade Manuka honey even though this is where it starts to become a therapeutic agent
  • 15+ means that the honey has high levels of the three compounds and can be used for medicinal purposes according to the Unique Manuka Factor organization and they are not best for food

Manuka honey with a rating of 20 or higher is extremely potent medical-grade Manuka honey and can also be used if you plan to dilute the medicinal honey with any other substance.

What are the benefits of Manuka honey?

There are many potential benefits of Manuka honey including:

Wound healing

The application of honey has been used as a dressing and protective barriers for burns, boils, sores, skin infections, and wounds, including surgical wounds, for millennia.

Manuka honey, on the other hand, has recently been shown to speed up wound healing time in several studies.

In fact, in 2007 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Manuka honey as an option for wound care.

Its antimicrobial properties help to prevent infection while its antioxidant properties help to reduce inflammation all in a moist wound environment.

A couple of studies have shown that Manuka honey was effective in healing and inhibiting the bacterial growth in wounds caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is a type of species of bacteria that has shown antibiotic resistance.

While other studies have shown that Manuka honey has is effective in treating burns.

There are also studies that have shown its effectiveness in treating diabetic ulcers too.

If you have a large or deep wound that may require stitches, please seek medical attention first before applying Manuka honey.

Skin care

Manuka honey can also be used as a natural beauty product. When applied topically, it can help to moisturize dry skin, reduce inflammation, and fight acne.

The antibacterial properties in the honey may help to kill the acne-causing bacteria that are responsible for acne while the anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce redness and swelling.

Manuka honey can be used as a face mask, spot treatment, or even as a natural cleanser.

There is little research to substantiate these claims and most evidence is anecdotal although there was a study of the honey from the Kanuka plant, which is similar to the Manuka plant, that suggests this is possible.

If you have sensitive skin, it is always best to do a patch test first before applying Manuka honey anywhere on your body as it may cause an allergic reaction.

Sore throat and cough suppressant

Manuka honey can also be used to treat a sore throat. The antibacterial properties can help to kill the bacteria that are causing the sore throat while the anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce swelling.

Honey is also a natural cough suppressant. It can help to coat the throat and calm a cough.

Digestive issues

Manuka honey can also be used to treat digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastric ulcer, and ulcerative colitis (UC).

The honey was shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on rats although more studies on humans are needed.

The antibacterial properties can also help to kill bacteria that may be causing you issues while the anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce inflammation.

Manuka honey can also help to coat your stomach and soothe your digestive tract.

Oral health

Manuka honey can also be used to improve oral health. It can help to fight plaque and oral bacteria such as gingivitis while also freshening your breath.

The fact it is an antibacterial agent means that it can help to kill the bacteria that are causing these conditions.

Are the benefits of Manuka honey proven?

There are many potential benefits and effects of Manuka honey but more research and larger studies, specifically on humans, are needed to validate the efficacy of honey and its medicinal benefits.

Although, it is approved by the FDA as a wound treatment. If you are interested in using Manuka honey, please speak to your doctor or health care provider first.

Are there any risks to using Manuka honey?

Manuka honey is generally considered safe although there are a few potential risks to be aware of. If you have a honey allergy, you may be allergic to Manuka honey and it is not advised to use it.

All honey has a high sugar content and too much sugar can lead to weight gain and other health problems, such as tooth decay, so it is best to use Manuka honey in moderation, especially if you have diabetes.

Finally, manuka honey is not to be given to children under the age of one as they may develop botulism.

Which manuka honey is best for me?

When buying manuka honey, look for a product that is labeled as medical-grade Manuka honey if you plan to use it for medical purposes as this means that the honey has been tested for purity and potency and meets certain standards.

Also, be wary of any product labeled as "active Manuka honey" as this refers to hydrogen peroxide which can be present in most types of honey.

Finally, the higher the UMF grade the more potent the antibacterial nature of the honey will be which will give you a greater chance of utilizing the potential of honey.

Specifically look for "non-peroxide activity" or "non-peroxide antibacterial activity" (NPA), which refers to the three antibacterial components above that are not hydrogen peroxide and are present in Manuka honey, or for the UMF rating.

When in doubt, always check the label or ask the company for more information.

Summary

Manuka honey has many potential benefits although more research is needed to validate most of these claims. Some potential benefits include manuka honey being a natural wound treatment, sore throat and cough suppressant, helping with digestive issues, and improving your oral health.

There are a few risks to be aware of when using manuka honey such as the possibility of an allergic reaction and manuka honey containing lots of sugar which can lead to health problems.

When buying manuka honey, look for a product that is labeled as medical-grade Manuka honey or has a high UMF rating when using it for medical purposes.

If you have any more questions regarding Manuka honey, please consult with your doctor, dietician, or health care provider to learn if it is right for you.

References and Sources:

https://www.honeybee.org.au/pdf/wonderfull01.pdf

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/mary-bumby-brings-the-first-honey-bees-in-new-zealand

https://www.umf.org.nz/unique-manuka-factor/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X16300870?via%3Dihub

 

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