Historically, Manuka honey has been used for medicinal purposes dating back thousands of years. Whether it was with the Far Eastern Vedic tradition, ancient Greek mythology or in Biblical times, where the promised land was known as the “land flowing with milk and honey,” cultures around the globe have praised honey for being an amazing healing treasure. Seeing that it is one of nature’s richest antimicrobial sources, it shouldn’t surprise us to hear that many archeologists claim that while excavating the tombs of Egyptian royals from thousands of years ago, they even discovered unspoiled honey in pots.
Yet because of industrialization, honey isn’t what it used to be. Like most things today, not all honeys are created equal. In addition to the more than 300 varieties of honey to choose from, you have the following options:
- Pasteurized or raw honey
- Filtered or unfiltered
- Comb (with the edible beeswax inside) liquid or whipped
- Local or imported
As a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for, and most products at conventional supermarkets are not much different from high fructose corn syrup. To get high-quality Manuka honey today, you pretty much have to go to your local health food store, local farm co-op or go online to purchase the real deal.
However, it’s not impossible to find Manuka honey, and as you’ll see, there are many reasons to seek it out. So is raw honey good for you? Is Manuka honey worth the money? And what are the benefits of Manuka honey? Here’s everything you need to know about how to use Manuka honey to maximize its medicinal properties.
What Is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey, produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the Manuka tree, is one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world. It has a rich, earthy flavor and has been associated with a number of health benefits. There are also many Manuka honey uses that range from healing sore throats and digestive illnesses to curing Staph infections and gingivitis.
These days, Manuka honey is available in many different forms. In addition to being added to herbal antibiotics and creams, you can also find plenty of Manuka honey face masks and skincare products. Like other types of honey, such as sour honey, it’s also used medicinally and combined with other herbs and spices to help promote healing.
So is honey good for you? What is the difference between Manuka honey and regular honey? And what is so special about Manuka honey? Keep reading for more about what Manuka honey can do, plus the top 11 benefits of this incredible ingredient.
What makes Manuka honey different is its amazing nutritional profile. Regular raw honey is already known for its tremendous nutritional and immune-boosting abilities. Generally speaking, raw Manuka honey is a rich source of:
- Amino acids
- B vitamins (B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid)
Yet with Manuka honey, the nutritional content is up to four times that of normal flower honeys. This is what is called the Unique Manuka Factor.
Manuka honey benefits have been touted in the natural health world for a long time and even more in recent years because a growing body of research is starting to support thousands of years of folk medicine use. Some of the top Manuka honey uses are and benefits include:
1. Helps with SIBO, Low Stomach Acid and Acid Reflux
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), low stomach acid and acid reflux go hand in hand. Because of the natural antibiotic and antibacterial properties found in Manuka honey, it is a great medicine for any bacteria-related digestive disorder.
In fact, in a recent study, one dangerous bacteria related to all three conditions, Clostridium difficile, was found to be quite susceptible to Manuka honey’s bactericidal effects. Thus, taking Manuka honey is very beneficial at reducing acid reflux and balancing your digestive system to heal stomach and intestinal imbalances.
2. Promotes Skin Health
The internet is filled with patient testimonials that Manuka honey works marvelously for acne and eczema patients. At this time there are few clinical trials to support these claims, but taking into account its proven antimicrobial and healing properties, it’s believed honey can help with these skin conditions.
One recent review of clinical and cellular studies on Manuka honey’s effects in treating atopic dermatitis found that it “is potentially effective in the treatment of AD lesions based on both clinical and cellular studies through different mechanisms. This needs to be confirmed by randomized and controlled clinical trials.”
Looking for how to get rid of milia? Milia are small, white bumps that appear on the skin. Adults often develop milia under the eye or around the cheeks. Manuka honey is widely used as a milia treatment and is believed to be an effective natural method for how to remove milia. Manuka is often mixed with cinnamon and applied in a thin layer to skin for 10–15 minutes before rinsing off. Most people claim that applying honey on wounds or affected areas for a few minutes and then washing off with gentle soap and water usually does the trick. Repeat this every day or every other day for the best results.
3. Combats Staph Infections (MRSA)
You’ve probably heard of the superbug that has plagued hospitals over the years, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Overuse of over-the-counter antibiotics (OTC antibiotics) and drug ineffectiveness have caused certain strains of Staph to become virtually indefensible using typical hospital and nursing home medical protocols.
Spreading so rapidly, many people affected by MRSA end up getting so infected that they require invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, artificial joints or intervenes tubing, to save their lives against these dangerous superbugs — as antibiotics often don’t work.
However, U.K. researchers from Cardiff Metropolitan University offer some natural hope. They discovered that Manuka honey downregulates the most potent genes of the MRSA bacteria. Some scientists now suggest that regular topical use on cuts and infections (especially in the hospital and nursing home setting) may keep MRSA naturally at bay.
4. Treats Burns, Wounds and Ulcers
According to research published in the Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products, “The use of honey leads to improved wound healing in acute cases, pain relief in burn patients and decreased inflammatory response in such patients.”
Moreover, because of its rich antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory characteristics, Manuka honey has been shown to prevent infection in rats with ulcers and may even block the growth of a specific type of bacteria that causes stomach ulcers in humans. It has also been used quite effectively as a wound dressing to promote rapid, improved healing.
5. Prevents Tooth Decay and Gingivitis
Several studies have come out describing how Manuka honey can help treat and prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease. Due to its superior antimicrobial activity, researchers from the School of Dentistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered that chewing or sucking on a Manuka honey product not only caused a 35 percent decrease in plaque, but it led to a 35 percent reduction in bleeding sites in people suffering from gingivitis. The calcium, zinc and phosphorus found in Manuka honey are all important nutrients for healing teeth.
6. Aids IBS and IBD Treatment
When evaluating the effect that Manuka honey has on experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease in rats, researchers from Chandigarh Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research discovered several astounding findings:
- Manuka honey at different doses provided protection against TNBS-induced colonic damage.
- All the treated groups showed reduced colonic inflammation, and all the biochemical parameters were significantly reduced compared with the control in the Manuka honey treated groups.
- Manuka honey at different doses restored lipid peroxidation as well as improved antioxidant parameters. Morphological and histological scores were significantly reduced in the low dose Manuka honey treated group.
- In the inflammatory model of colitis, oral administration of Manuka honey significantly reduced the colonic inflammation.
Manuka honey not only treated intestinal inflammation and pain, but also repaired free radical damage and protected against further damage.
7. Improves Sore Throat and Immunity
In 2007, data published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggested that, “A 5.8-kDa component of Manuka honey stimulates immune cells via TLR4.” This is interesting because previous studies have indicated that honey stimulates cytokine production from human monocytes.
Coupling with this 2011 in vitro research showing how Manuka stops the growth of sore throat-causing Strep bacteria, it is no wonder that so many people benefit almost instantly from taking a spoonful of honey when they don’t feel well. Recently it has even been approved by the National Cancer Institute to be used to treat inflammation in the throat from chemotherapy.
8. Helps Allergies
A study conducted by the South Karelia Allergy and Environment Institute in Finland examining the effects of honey and birch pollen on allergies had remarkable results. The participants were given regular honey, honey with birch pollen added to it and some used only their allergy medicines as a control group. The results were impressive:
…patients reported a 60% lower total symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days, and 70% fewer days with severe symptoms, and they used 50% less antihistamines compared to the control group.
The researchers also found that there was very little difference between the birch pollen honey users and the regular honey users. Thus, taking Manuka honey on a regular basis may really help your seasonal allergy symptoms and lessen your need for medications.
9. Beauty Treatment and Health Booster
Taken daily, Manuka honey has an elixir effect that boosts energy and enhances your quality of life. Because of its nutrient-dense profile, it boosts vitality, youthful energy, and has been known to improve skin tone and texture.
Use it in a homemade face wash to exfoliate and fight free radicals in the skin. Use it in your shampoo or make a Manuka honey mask to boost the shine of your hair. One of my favorite uses is in a detox drink to get the most benefits inside and out.
10. Improves Sleep
Manuka Honey helps promote restful deep sleep, working as a natural sleep aid. It slowly releases the glycogen needed for essential bodily functions during sleep. Adding honey to milk at bedtime helps the body release melatonin into the brain, which is necessary for deep sleep.
There are many health disorders associated with poor sleep, such as heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke and arthritis. Since honey is proven to aid in quality sleep, it could potentially help reduce the risk of these and many other heath problems.
11. May Reduce Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes a specific type of protein to malfunction, leading to an overproduction of thick mucus that can clog the lungs and increase the risk of respiratory infections. Promising research shows that Manuka honey could potentially help kill off bacteria to fight off infection, especially in those with cystic fibrosis.
According to a study published in the Archives of Microbiology, Manuka honey was able to block the growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia spp, two strains of bacteria that can be especially problematic for those with cystic fibrosis.
Wondering how to take Manuka honey? To experience the most benefit for skin health, immune function or milia removal, you should use a Manuka honey dosage of about one to two tablespoons per day. The easiest way is to just take it straight, but if it is a little too sweet for you, then you can add it to your favorite herbal tea, drizzle it over yogurt or spread it on sprouted grain toast.
If you want to enhance the immune-boosting effect or heal a sore throat, add one teaspoon of cinnamon. Research shows that the antimicrobial properties of cinnamon and Manuka honey are so powerful that they can really help you recover fast.
In 1981, researchers at the New Zealand University of Waikato discovered that Manuka honey has a considerably higher level of enzymes than regular honey. These enzymes create a natural hydrogen peroxide that works as an antibacterial. Some strains of this New Zealand honey are particularly rich in hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal and dihydroxyacetone.
This medicinal trilogy helps make up what is referred to as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF), a global standard in identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength of Manuka. Essentially, the UMF is a guarantee that the honey being sold is of a medicinal quality.
UMF is not found in the nectar of all Manuka flowers, and comparatively speaking, regular Manuka only contains the hydrogen peroxide antibacterial property that is common to most types of honey.
What separates UMF Manuka from other Manuka varieties is that it has both the natural hydrogen peroxide and its own natural UMF antibacterial property, which greatly enhances it effectiveness. The UMF properties of Manuka are extremely stable and, unlike the hydrogen peroxide common in most honey, are not easily destroyed by heat, light and enzymes in the body.
The minimum UMF rating recognized is UMF5, but it is not considered beneficial unless it carries a UMF 10+ level of antibacterial activity in the honey. Anything ranging from UMF 10–UMF 15 is a useful level, and anything UMF 16 and up is considered a superior quality.
Genuine UMF Manuka honey has these four things:
- A UMF trademark clearly labeled on the front of the container.
- Be from a New Zealand UMF-licensed company and labeled in New Zealand.
- The UMF company’s name and license number on the label.
- A UMF rating number of 5–16+. If it is labeled without the UMF or without a number, then it is not the genuine article.
According to the UMF Association, the UMF rating actually tests the antibacterial performance of a honey and compares it to phenol, a disinfectant. The Active Manuka Honey Association that does the testing states:
The presence of the special non-peroxide activity can be detected only by an array of scientific testing directly relating to the phenol standard. The rating has a one-to-one relationship to the phenol standard.
This means that a UMF rating of 20+ is equivalent in strength to a 20 percent solution of phenol. The ideal UMF rating varies depending on your purpose, but laboratory studies have shown that Manuka honey with a non-peroxide activity level of UMF 12 to UMF 15 is effective against a wide range of very resistant bacteria.
Here is an explanation of what Manuka honey UMF you should use:
- 0–4 — Non-therapeutic
- 4–9 — Maintenance level with general honey health benefits
- 10–14 — Supports natural healing and bacterial balance
- 15+ — Superior levels of phenols that are highly therapeutic but shouldn’t exceed taking one tablespoon at a time
Another measurement used is the Manuka honey KFactor, created by honey maker Wedderspoon. According to the Wedderspoon website:
KFactor 12 guarantees 65 percent of the pollen grains in the honey are Manuka pollen grains, KFactor 16 guarantees 75 percent of the pollen grains in the honey are Manuka pollen grains and KFactor 22 guarantees 90 percent of the pollen grains in the honey are Manuka pollen grains.
Wedderspoon also announced recently:
… its roster of innovative Manuka Honey products align with the new — and only — regulatory standard for Manuka Honey, which was recently established by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). This new definition means that consumers can have complete confidence that honey labeled Manuka is genuine if it is packed in New Zealand, as MPI’s Manuka standard is the only government-regulated and approved standard for Manuka Honey in the world.
Weddderspoon’s KFactor comprises five “key factors”:
- Raw and unpasteurized
- Non-GMO Project verified
- Produced and packed in New Zealand
- Free of antibiotics, glyphosate and pesticides
- Traceable from hive to home
Where to Buy and How to Eat It
Wondering where to buy Manuka honey and how you can start using it? It’s widely available in natural health stores and online retailers, which makes it easy to find wherever you are.
To get the best Manuka honey, it’s important to consider how you plan to use it. Selecting a medical-grade Manuka honey is key if you’re planning to use its antibacterial properties for digestive health or mixing it into homemade skincare products, such as a Manuka honey facial mask. Non-medicinal honey is significantly cheaper and may be suitable if you’re simply looking to sweeten up recipes.
What is the best honey to eat? What level of Manuka honey is best? What’s the best Manuka honey brand?
Ideally, purchase from a reputable retailer and look for organic Manuka honey with a UMF of 15+ to maximize the potential Manuka honey health benefits. Another way to measure the medicinal properties of a product is to check the Manuka honey MGO. Methylglyoxal, or MGO, is one of the compounds that makes Manuka honey the best honey. MGO levels start at around 30 and go above 800, depending on the medicinal strength of the honey.
What does MGO 83 mean in Manuka honey?
This translates to a UMF score of about 5, which is considered non-medicinal grade.
Aside from jarred honey, there are several other products available as well, including Manuka honey cream, skincare products and hair masks.
How long does honey last?
With proper storage, Manuka honey can last nearly indefinitely. If mixed with other ingredients, however, it may expire a bit earlier.
There are plenty of options for how to eat Manuka honey to take advantage of the many different benefits that it has to offer. Here are a few simple recipes to help you get started:
- Spiced Turmeric Milk with Honey
- Coconut Milk Coffee Creamer
- Manuka Honey and Saffron Yogurt Pops
- Black Bean Brownies
Risks and Side Effects
Despite the many benefits associated with this potent ingredient, there are several Manuka honey side effects that you may want to consider as well.
Like other types of sweeteners, Manuka honey is high in sugar. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of your intake, especially if you have diabetes or other issues with regulating blood sugar levels.
Those who are allergic to bees or honey may also experience an allergic reaction when using Manuka honey for skin health or consuming it orally. Consider doing a patch test by applying a small amount on skin to assess your tolerance before using Manuka honey for wounds or other skin issues. Discontinue use and consult with your doctor if you notice any adverse side effects or food allergy symptoms.
Additionally, honey is not recommended for infants younger than one year old. This is to help minimize the risk of infant botulism, a serious illness that can be caused by consuming honey contaminated with a specific type of bacteria.
- What is the best honey in the world? New Zealand Manuka honey, which is often considered the healthiest type of honey, is made by the bees that pollinate the Manuka tree.
- What is Manuka honey good for? Studies show that Manuka honey can boost digestion, support skin health, improve sleep, enhance immunity and more. Natural health practitioners often use Manuka honey for acne, milia, gingivitis, stomach ulcers and more.
- How does honey work? It’s thought to kill off bacteria and stimulate the production of immune cells to mimic the effects of antibiotics over the counter and promote better health.
- Which Manuka honey is the best? There are several different methods used to measure the medicinal properties of your honey, including the UMF rating, MGO levels and KFactor.
- Is honey safe? For most part, Manuka honey can be safely enjoyed in moderation. However, it may trigger food allergy symptoms in those with a bee allergy, and those with diabetes may need to monitor their intake. It’s also not recommended for children under one year of age to help prevent infant botulism.
- From hair masks to skin creams to baked goods and beyond, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the unique health benefits of Manuka honey.
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