Manuka honey is a type of honey native to New Zealand.
It’s produced by bees who pollinate the flower Leptospermum scoparium, commonly known as the manuka bush.
Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties are what set it apart from traditional honey.
Methylglyoxal is its active ingredient and likely responsible for these antibacterial effects.
Additionally, manuka honey has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
In fact, it has traditionally been used for wound healing, soothing sore throats, preventing tooth decay and improving digestive issues.
Here are 7 science-based health benefits of manuka honey.
1. Aid Wound Healing
Since ancient times, honey has been used to treat wounds, burns, sores and boils (1Trusted Source).
In 2007, manuka honey was approved by the US FDA as an option for wound treatment .
Honey offers antibacterial and antioxidant properties, all while maintaining a moist wound environment and protective barrier, which prevents microbial infections in the wound.
Multiple studies have shown that manuka honey can enhance wound healing, amplify the regeneration of tissue and even decrease pain in patients suffering from burns (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
For example, one two-week study investigated the effects of applying a manuka honey dressing on 40 people with non-healing wounds.
The results showed that 88% of the wounds decreased in size. Moreover, it helped create an acidic wound environment, which favors wound healing .
What’s more, manuka honey may help heal diabetic ulcers.
A Saudi Arabian study found that manuka honey wound dressings, when used in combination with conventional wound treatment, healed diabetic ulcers more effectively than conventional treatment alone .
Additionally, a Greek study showed that manuka honey wound dressings reduced healing time and disinfected wounds in patients with diabetic foot ulcers .
Another study observed the effectiveness of manuka honey in healing eyelid wounds after surgery. They found all eyelid wounds healed well, regardless of whether the incisions were treated with manuka honey or vaseline.
However, patients reported that scarring treated with manuka honey was less stiff and significantly less painful, compared to scarring treated with vaseline .
Lastly, manuka honey is effective at treating wound infections caused by antibiotic-resistant strains, such as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and more.
Hence, the regular topical application of manuka honey on wounds and infections may help prevent MRSA .
2. Promote Oral Health
According to the CDC, almost 50% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease.
To avoid tooth decay and keep your gums healthy, it is important to minimize bad oral bacteria that can cause plaque formation.
It’s also important not to totally wipe out the good oral bacteria that is responsible for keeping your mouth healthy.
Studies have shown manuka honey attacks harmful oral bacteria associated with plaque formation, gum inflammation and tooth decay.
Specifically, research has shown that manuka honey with a high antibacterial activity is effective at inhibiting the growth of harmful oral bacteria .
One study examined the effects of chewing or sucking on a honey chew on the reduction of plaque and gingivitis. The honey chew was made of manuka honey and similar to a chewy honey candy.
After their three daily meals, participants were instructed to either chew or suck on the honey chew for 10 minutes or chew a sugar-free gum.
The honey-chew group showed a significant reduction in plaque and gingival bleeding, compared to those who chewed the sugar-free gum .
The idea of consuming honey for good oral health may seem counterintuitive, as you have probably been told that consuming too many sweets can lead to cavities.
However, unlike candy and refined sugar, manuka honey’s potent antibacterial effects make it unlikely to contribute to cavities or tooth decay.
If you are suffering from a sore throat, manuka honey may help provide some relief.
Its antiviral and antibacterial properties can reduce inflammation and attack the bacteria that cause pain.
Not only does manuka honey attack harmful bacteria, it also coats the inner lining of the throat for a soothing effect.
A recent study in patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer observed the effects of consuming manuka honey on Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria responsible for sore throats.
Interestingly, researchers found a significant decrease in Streptococcus mutans after they consumed manuka honey.
Moreover, manuka honey decreases harmful oral bacteria that causes mucositis, a common side effect of radiation and chemotherapy. Mucositis results in inflammation and painful ulcerations of the mucous membranes lining the esophagus and digestive tract.
For quite some time, various types of honey have been touted as natural cough suppressants.
In fact, one study found honey was as effective as a common cough suppressant .
Although manuka honey wasn’t used in this study, it’s likely to be just as effective at suppressing coughs.
4. Help Prevent Gastric Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are one of the most common illnesses affecting humans .
They are sores that form on the lining of the stomach, causing stomach pain, nausea and bloating.
H. pylori is a common type of bacteria that is responsible for the majority of gastric ulcers.
Research suggests that manuka honey may help treat gastric ulcers caused by H. pylori.
For example, a test-tube study examined its effects on biopsies of gastric ulcers caused by H. pylori. The results were positive and implied that manuka honey is a useful antibacterial agent against H. pylori .
However, a small two-week study in 12 individuals who took 1 tablespoon of manuka honey by mouth daily showed that it did not decrease H. pylori bacteria .
Thus, more research is needed to fully assess its ability to treat gastric ulcers caused by H. pylori.
Gastric ulcers can also be caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
Yet, a study in rats showed that manuka honey helped prevent alcohol-induced gastric ulcers .
5. Improve Digestive Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder.
Its associated symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements.
Interestingly, researchers have discovered that regularly consuming manuka honey may help decrease these symptoms.
Manuka honey has been proven to improve antioxidant status and reduce inflammation in rats with both IBS and ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease .
It has also been shown to attack strains of Clostridium difficile.
Clostridium difficile, often called C. diff, is a type of bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and inflammation of the bowel.
C. diff is commonly treated with antibiotics. However, a recent study observed the effectiveness of manuka honey on C. diff strains.
Manuka honey killed C. diff cells, making it a possibly effective treatment .
It is important to note that the above studies observed manuka honey’s influence on bacterial infections in rat and test-tube studies.
Further research is needed to come to a full conclusion regarding its influence on bacterial infections of the bowel.
6. May Treat Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder that damages the lungs and can also affect the digestive system and other organs.
It affects the cells that produce mucus, causing mucus to be abnormally thick and sticky. This thick mucus clogs airways and ducts, making it difficult to breathe.
Unfortunately, upper respiratory infections are quite common in people with cystic fibrosis.
Manuka honey has been shown to fight bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia spp. are two common bacteria that can cause serious upper respiratory infections, especially in vulnerable populations.
One study observed the effectiveness of manuka honey against these bacteria in people with cystic fibrosis.
Results indicated that it inhibits their growth and works in conjunction with antibiotic treatment .
Therefore, researchers concluded that manuka honey may play an important role in treating upper respiratory infections, especially in those with cystic fibrosis.
Acne is usually caused by hormonal changes, but it can also be a reaction to poor diet, stress or bacteria growth in clogged pores.
The antimicrobial activity of manuka honey, when used in combination with a low-pH product, is often marketed to fight acne.
Manuka honey could help keep your skin free of bacteria, which could expedite the acne healing process.
Also, given its anti-inflammatory properties, manuka honey is said to decrease inflammation associated with acne.
Yet, there is very limited research on manuka honey’s ability to treat acne.
However, one study investigated the effects of kanuka honey, which has antibacterial properties similar to those of manuka honey. It found that kanuka honey was as effective as antibacterial soap at improving acne .
Further research is needed to declare manuka honey a useful home remedy for acne.
Is Manuka Honey Safe?
For most people, manuka honey is safe to consume.
However, some people should consult a doctor before using it, including:
- People with diabetes. All types of honey are high in natural sugar. Therefore, consuming manuka honey may affect blood sugar levels.
- Those allergic to honey or bees. Those allergic to other types of honey or bees may have an allergic reaction after ingesting or applying manuka honey.
- Infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving honey to babies younger than one due to the risk of infant botulism, a type of foodborne illness.
The Bottom Line
Manuka honey is a unique type of honey.
Its most notable attribute is its effect on wound management and healing.
Manuka honey also has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that may help treat numerous ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, periodontal disease and upper respiratory infections.
Further research is warranted to support its beneficial properties.
All things considered, manuka honey is likely an effective treatment strategy that may accelerate the healing process when used in conjunction with more conventional therapies.
Get Your Gut Back On Track!
An estimated 110,000 people consume antibiotics daily in Ireland, between December/March. (Source: Health Protection Surveillance Centre).
We asked Nutritional Therapist Rosanna Davison for her Top Tips to get your gut back on track after an illness.
1. Take time out
Don’t push yourself too quickly. Remember your body needs time to rebuild its reserves and regain strength.
Take more rest than usual. If you need to sleep longer, go to bed earlier.
Cut back on non-essential activities; they can wait until you are feeling 100%.
- Embrace fibre-rich foods full of protective nutrients
Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. Try eating seven to nine portions over the course of each day. Choose different colours so that you nourish your body with a variety of phytonutrients.
Eat a portion of complete protein at each meal, such as poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses or tofu.
Consume essential omega-3 fatty acids daily. Avocados, seeds (flax, chia) and oily fish (mackerel, wild and organic salmon), are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory fats.
- Go ‘fermented’
Fermented foods are rich in ‘friendly’ bacteria. Sauerkraut is simple to make at home or buy kefir or kimchi in your local health store.
- Reduce or eliminate sugary foods
Processed foods often contain refined sugars to enhance taste. Excess refined sugar and processed foods may encourage the growth of ‘unfriendly’ bacteria, so aim to buy and eat fresh food.
If you have a sweet tooth, try eating berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries). They are rich in antioxidants and naturally low in sugar.
If you need a sweetener, try Stevia which is extracted from plant leaves and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels.
Do vegans need to take supplements?
A varied, wholesome vegan diet provides almost all essential nutrients in sufficient quantities. I hear you shouting ‘Noooo! It provides absolutely everything we need!’ and you may be right, but only if you regularly eat certain fortified foods. The sad truth is that modern food production systems and lifestyles make it more difficult for everyone – vegans or not – to get all they need from diet alone. It doesn’t mean a vegan diet is unnatural or unhealthy, in fact the opposite is true. It means that how we grow, produce and consume food has changed and, with an ever-growing population, the demands on the systems that produce our food are so high that certain nutrients become harder to obtain.
I get a lot of questions about supplements and understand why people are confused. Over the years, I’ve worked on many vegan research projects and as science and population studies reveal ever more data, the guidelines and recommendations change and evolve. Hence, what we were told 10 years ago may no longer be up-to-date and that’s why different opinions arise, depending on where and when we got our information. It’s my job to keep up-to-date, so hopefully I can bring some clarity to the supplement discussion!
So what’s needed? The trio of nutrients to keep a close eye on are vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. You may not need to supplement with all these, all year long, but it depends on several factors. Read on…
Vitamin B12 naturally comes from bacteria in the soil and both people and animals would traditionally have got it from eating unwashed plants. However, we not only wash vegetables before we eat them (and for good reasons), but food production is now so sanitised that most vegetables are washed in chlorine, or other sterilising solutions, so there’s not a trace of B12 left.
People are not generally aware that most farmed animals are given B12 supplements and this is how the vitamin eventually ends up in their flesh. So, the argument that meat is a natural source of B12 doesn’t really stack up as meat-eaters essentially consume B12 supplements recycled by the animals that were given them!
It is absolutely necessary that we have a reliable source of vitamin B12 for our bodies. We need it to make red blood cells, for a healthy heart and circulation, and it’s essential for the nervous system. It takes years to develop a B12 deficiency, so on one hand, you don’t need to worry about not having taken B12 for a while. On the other hand, you do need to pay attention, as when symptoms develop, it’s usually serious.
To ensure adequate intake, you should have at least 5µg (micrograms) daily from supplements or fortified foods. The B12 used in both foods and supplements is produced commercially by growing bacterial cultures in large vats – and it’s always suitable for vegans.
There are two forms of B12 in supplements – cyanocobalamin (cheap) and methylcobalamin (expensive). Cyanocobalamin is the stable ‘inactive,’ form of B12 and is used in supplements and to fortify foods and drinks. Once ingested, it’s activated by your body so it can be used. Methylcobalamin is the ‘active’ form of vitamin B12 as it does not require any metabolic reactions to be activated. It costs more and is not so stable.
So which one to choose? Unless you’re a heavy smoker, have kidney failure or any other serious condition affecting your metabolism, cyanocobalamin – the cheap form of B12 – is perfectly fine. Intakes up to 2,000µg a day are safe and you can take either a lower dose daily or a higher dose a couple of times a week.
We need vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and it also performs other essential functions in our metabolism. It is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight and this is the main source of vitamin D for most people. However, if you always use sun-block, cover most of your skin or live in a country, like the UK, where we don’t get enough sunlight over the winter, you need a supplement, whether you’re vegan or not.
The UK Government now recommends that we all take a supplement from October to April and, if you protect your skin ferociously over the sunnier spring and summer months, you should take a supplement all year long. Otherwise, just 20 minutes of sunlight on the face and arms is all that is required by the body to manufacture sufficient vitamin D.
Fortified breakfast cereals, bread, plant milks and vegan margarines can be useful sources if exposure to sunlight is not practicable, but may not be enough. When it comes to supplements, there are two types and your body can use both, but it’s advisable to check the source – vitamin D2 is always vegan, but vitamin D3 can be of animal origin. Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D2 and labelled so, but if not specified, especially on cereal products, vitamin D tends to be of animal origin. If you choose to supplement your diet, there’s a range of quality and affordable vegan supplements with vitamin D2. There are also those made from algae or mushrooms that contain D3 and these are recommended if you need a higher dose. When deciding on your dosage, 10µg per day is enough and you shouldn’t go above 25µg.
Iodine has been a hot topic lately, especially with plenty of tabloid ‘experts’ warning that vegans are missing out. This mineral is necessary for thyroid function and helps to regulate how energy is produced and used in the body.
The amount of iodine in plants depends upon the iodine content of the soil in/on which they are grown. The closer to the sea, the more iodine and therefore vegans can get enough from plant foods, but there’s no guarantee. Seaweed, which of course grows in seawater, is always a good source and includes nori, laver, dulse and the kelp family (kombu, arame, wakame). But be warned – kelp absorbs far more than other seaweeds and you can get too much iodine from it. So, while seaweed consumption is encouraged, kelp should be used only sparingly.
It’s best to use a kelp supplement so you know exactly how much iodine you’re taking – it’s cheap, reliable and you don’t have to worry about taking too much. The recommended daily intake is 140µg and intakes up to 500µg are considered safe. In many countries, iodised salt is commonly used to ensure iodine intake, but it’s not the norm in the UK.
The dairy industry has been boasting about the iodine content of cow’s milk. What they don’t tell you is that it’s not a natural component of milk, but comes from iodinated cattle feed, supplements, iodophor medication, iodine-containing sterilisers of milking equipment, teat dips and udder washes. Cow’s milk is neither a natural nor the best source of iodine, so we can happily leave all that dairy out of our diet.
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