Health Benefits of Manuka Honey
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Health Benefits of Manuka Honey

Apr 04, 2023

Manuka honey is a type of dark honey produced by bees that pollinate flowers of the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), a shrub native to New Zealand.

Unlike other honey varieties, manuka honey is rich in a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO), which gives it its strong antibacterial effects. Manuka honey also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit wound healing and promote oral health.

This article discusses the potential uses and benefits of manuka honey. It also covers side effects and tips for choosing the best manuka honey.

Getty Images / Penpak Ngamsathain

Manuka honey has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties that may help support wound healing, improve oral health, and soothe a sore throat. Limited evidence suggests it may also support digestive health.

While manuka honey may offer potential health benefits, it isn't a cure-all and should not be used to treat any health condition without medical supervision.

Studies have shown that manuka honey may benefit surgical wounds, burns, pressure ulcers, and cancer-related wounds. In fact, in 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first manuka honey–based wound dressing to treat mild to moderate wounds.

A 2021 retrospective study involving 15 people with chronic, nonhealing wounds found that applying manuka honey topically for four weeks resulted in rapid wound healing.

These effects are thought to be due to honey's ability to maintain a moist wound environment, reduce inflammation, support new tissue growth, and quickly remove dead tissue from the wound.

Due to its antibacterial activity, manuka honey can also prevent and treat wound infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of staph bacteria that's resistant to many antibiotics.

Despite being high in natural sugars, manuka honey's natural antibacterial properties may support oral health and protect against cavities.

A 2020 review of five randomized control trials and 11 test tube studies noted that manuka honey might inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria, including Porphyromonas gingivalis and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.

Another 2018 randomized control trial in 135 children examined the effects of manuka honey, raw honey, and chlorhexidine mouthwash on plaque (a sticky film that forms on teeth) and gingivitis (gum disease). Participants were instructed to swish with their assigned mouthwash twice daily for 30 seconds for 21 days.

The results showed that chlorhexidine, considered the gold standard for plaque control, was the most effective agent. However, honey-based mouthwash products also significantly reduced plaque formation and gingivitis.

One 2023 pilot study in 15 individuals with periodontitis (advanced gum disease) found that when used in combination with non-surgical periodontal treatment, manuka honey application improved gum health measures, including pocket depth reduction (PPD), a procedure to remove bacteria between the gums and teeth; and clinical attachment level (CAL) gain, a procedure to determine the loss of gum tissue.

However, due to the small sample size, these results may not apply to the general population.

A sore throat is an infection often caused by Streptococcus bacteria in the throat and nose. It can also be caused by viruses, fungi, chemical pollutants, and other strains of bacteria.

With its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal properties, manuka honey may help treat a sore throat. It also coats the inner lining of the throat, soothing it while destroying harmful microbes.

There is also evidence that honey may help suppress coughs caused by upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). A 2021 review of 14 studies found that honey was superior to typical care for treating cough severity and frequency in individuals with URTIs. The review also suggested that honey could be a potential alternative to antibiotics, which may help decrease the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

However, most studies have used traditional honey, so we cannot say that manuka honey will be equally effective.

Honey contains nondigestible compounds like oligosaccharides, which may potentially act as prebiotics, supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

However, evidence on manuka honey for gut health remains limited and mixed. For example, an older test-tube study found that manuka honey can improve the balance of bacteria in the gut. Yet, a 2022 human pilot study found no benefit.

Manuka honey may also help reduce inflammation in the digestive system. A 2019 study found manuka honey improves antioxidant status and inflammation in rats with ulcerative colitis. Another 2017 study in rats found that manuka honey may help treat chronic stomach ulcers.

Further human studies are needed to understand manuka honey's effects on digestive health.

Manuka honey is unlikely to cause significant side effects. However, there are some potential side effects to be aware of.

For instance, one tablespoon of manuka honey contains 60 calories and 16 grams of sugar. Consuming too much may lead to weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels, especially in those with diabetes.

Although rare, manuka honey may also cause allergic reactions, with symptoms ranging from a mild cough to a severe life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Avoid giving manuka honey to infants under 12 months due to the risk of infant botulism, a condition characterized by a loss of muscle tone and weakness.

Due to limited research, pregnant and breastfeeding people should avoid consuming manuka honey in larger amounts than what is typically found in food.

Furthermore, manuka honey should be avoided if you have a honey allergy or a bee allergy, as it may cause an allergic reaction.

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

There are no official recommendations for how much manuka honey people should consume. However, since honey is considered a source of added sugar, moderation is key.

The American Heart Association recommends that males consume less than 36 grams of added sugar daily and females consume less than 25 grams. This means if you don't have any added sugar in your diet from any other sources, you may consume 1 to 2 tablespoons maximum of manuka honey daily.

When using manuka honey topically, gently apply a thin layer of honey onto the wound or cut and cover it with a sterile dressing.

There is no evidence of major drug interactions with manuka honey. However, people taking oral blood sugar–lowering medications or insulin should use caution, as manuka honey may affect blood sugar levels.

Talk with your pharmacist or healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

Manuka honey should be stored in its original container in a dry, cool location away from direct sunlight.

As long as it's stored properly, manuka honey can stay good for up to three years.

Determining which type of manuka honey to buy can be quite confusing as several different grading systems are used.

However, the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) grading system used in New Zealand is considered the most comprehensive.

The UMF number, ranging from UMF 5-plus to UMF 20-plus, indicates the MGO concentration in manuka honey. It also tests for other signature compounds in genuine manuka honey, like leptosperin and dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

Manuka honey varieties with higher UMF numbers are believed to have stronger antibacterial properties, but they also are typically more expensive.

Recent studies have shown that, in some instances, lower UMF grades have similar or even higher antimicrobial activity. This may be influenced by storage conditions, product age, and other compounds present in different batches of manuka honey.

You may also see other numbers on product labels associated with, including MGO (methylglyoxal) and NPA (non-peroxide activity). MGO is the primary ingredient responsible for manuka honey's antibacterial properties. NPA measures the additional antibacterial activity found in manuka honey.

Manuka honey from Australia uses a slightly different grading system and will be labeled AMHA (Australian Manuka Honey Association) Authentic or Authorised. Labels must include the levels of MGO in the honey.

Always look for manuka honey products that are UMF-certified, AMHA Authentic, or AMHA Authorised to verify purity and authenticity.

Products with similar health-promoting compounds include:

Regular honey is an affordable alternative to manuka honey. Although it doesn't possess the same strong antibacterial properties as manuka, regular honey still contains beneficial compounds that give it antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

Yacon root syrup comes from the edible portion of the yacon plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius). Despite its sweet taste, yacon root syrup is much lower in calories and sugar than manuka honey. Yet, like manuka honey, it may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may benefit gut health.

Aloe vera is a medicinal plant with antibacterial, antioxidant properties. When applied topically, aloe vera gel may help retain skin moisture and integrity, protecting against skin ulcers. It also may help treat digestive symptoms like constipation.

Manuka honey has higher antibacterial activity than regular honey, likely due to its higher content of methylglyoxal (MGO) and polyphenols.

People with known allergies to bee stings or to other types of honey should avoid manuka honey. Also, avoid giving manuka honey to children under 12 months of age due to the risk of infant botulism.

Although manuka honey can be beneficial when consumed in moderation, it is relatively high in sugar and calories. Excess consumption may lead to elevated blood sugar levels and weight gain.

Manuka honey has unique antibacterial activity and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. It seems to be most useful for treating wounds and supporting oral health.

Manuka honey may also have potential benefits for sore throat, inflammatory bowel disease, and gut health.

However, it is important to note that manuka honey should not be used as a substitute for prescription medication due to limited human research.

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By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LDLindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.