Manuka Honey Benefits

If Australia has picky koalas that only eat six species of eucalyptus leaves, then New Zealand has pickier bees that only harvest nectar from one species of endemic bush – manuka, or Leptospermum scoparium – that grows uncultivated all throughout the country.  This means that authentic manuka honey can only come from New Zealand because it is only there that the bush grows.  Commercially, honey can only be classified “manuka” if the pollen count contains at least 70% manuka nectar.  The medicinal kind contains a rating of at least UMF (unique manuka factor) 16, a score of antibacterial strength certified by the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Honey, in general, has been used for thousands of years since the time of the ancient Egyptians (where its uses were widely recorded).  In fact, the modern “honeymoon” came from “honey month” when honey was given to newlyweds (particularly the husbands) to drink for a month after the wedding.  Long before the chemical components of honey were analyzed, it was widely thought to boost the immune system and therefore, improve vigor.  Now we know that honey is rich in antioxidants that seek out and destroy free radicals responsible for weakening the immune system and promoting aging.

It is also a favorite among wounded soldiers because of its antiseptic and antibacterial properties.  Honey applied on gaping wounds cleanses and prevents further infection, speeding up healing.  Modern science has discovered why:  the bacteria has found a sweeter alternative to bland human tissue.

On top of that, manuka honey conveys a broader spectrum of benefits because of its unique chemical properties apart from its high antibacterial content, an attribute that can be found in table honey in weaker doses. Scientists call it the non-peroxide antibacterial activity that seems to be present only in this New Zealand honey, and in high concentration.  The non-peroxide property allows the honey to retain its full antibacterial potency, even when diluted several times over, as it diffuses into the depth of infected tissues.  Table honey only contains hydrogen peroxide that loses its healing power as it goes deeper.

Further, the non-peroxide content kills a wider range of bacteria compared to regular honey.  The aboriginal Maori has used manuka honey not only to treat wounds, but also to soothe upset stomach, and they were right:  the honey kills the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, a common cause of peptic ulcer.

Because of the introduction of commercial antibiotics, newer and tougher strains of bacteria have become immune to hospitals’ standard antibiotic treatment.  Studies using manuka honey as alternative treatment, although inconclusive, have documented positive results where pharmaceutical antibiotics failed.  The non-peroxide property seems to be killing evolved strains of bacteria where hydrogen peroxide (in plain honey) cannot.  Case in point: MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), otherwise known as a “super bug.”  This is a type of bacteria that has mutated enough to become extremely resistant to a huge variety of antibiotics.  Roughly translated, people who suffer from MRSA infections have shown great improvements when treated with manuka honey.

Parallel studies on open wounds are also being done – on turtles.  So far, the studies are only getting excellent results.

The same non-peroxide property in this honey neutralizes digestive acids, as opposed to the hydrogen peroxide that remains inactive in acidic environment.  Hence, it is an effective treatment against ailments caused by high levels of acid, such as general stomach upset (including diarrhea and irritable bowels), acid reflux, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), and heartburn.

Manuka honey, as with all other table honeys, is a powerful anti-infection agent, but the former is faster-acting than the latter.  It is taken orally to banish coughs, common colds and sore throats in a hurry, and applied topically to alleviate skin disorders like acne, rosacea, dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema, to name a few.  Apply drops to reverse ear and sinus infections.  Take 2-3 tablespoons a day to stave off diverticulitis (an infection of diverticula, or abnormal protrusions in the colon walls).

Manuka honey is also a viable alternative to scar-reduction creams and lotions.  Its non-peroxide content is strong enough to kill bacteria, but not enough to damage tissues.

There are also anecdotal references that it abates gallbladder discomforts and flushes toxins out of the liver.

Some of the honey’s benefits are already well-established, while others are still in the process of being validated.  Of course, we all can agree that if all else fails, manuka honey can still find its way to sweeten tea.