Understanding the Benefits of Manuka Honey

Because it’s one of nature’s richest antimicrobial sources, Manuka is somewhat different than other honeys, as it’s used primarily for its medicinal benefits.

What is so special about Manuka honey that makes it worth seeking out? Based on a large number of studies plus anecdotal evidence, there are many Manuka honey benefits that range from helping to heal sore throats and digestive illnesses to reducing acne and gingivitis.

Unfortunately, because of industrialization, honey isn’t what it used to be. Like most things today, not all honeys are created equal. To obtain the most benefits you’ll need to know the specific types of raw, unpasteurized honeys to look for, including real Manuka honey.


Manuka honey - Dr. Axe

What Is Manuka Honey?

Manuka honey is a unique type of honey that’s produced only in New Zealand by European honey bees that pollinate the Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium). It’s considered by many experts to be one of the most beneficial forms of honey in the world. It was first produced in NZ in the 1830s, when bees from England were brought to NZ, however it didn’t gain much of a following until the 1980s.

Manuka has a rich, earthy flavor and is naturally sweet, plus it’s full of beneficial compounds, including methylglyoxal (MGO) that has been shown to have antibacterial activity.

These days, Manuka honey is available in many different forms. In addition to being sold in its pure form and added to herbal antibiotics and creams, you can also find it in face masks and other skincare products.

Like other types of honey, such as sour honey, it’s used medicinally and combined with other herbs and spices to help promote healing and strengthen immunity.

Nutrition Facts

What makes Manuka honey unique and so valuable is its nutritional profile. It’s a rich source of vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants such as phenolic compounds. Within this type honey you’ll find:

  • Carbohydrates/sugar (accounting for more 90 percent of honey’s weight)
  • Compounds such as methylglyoxal (MGO) and hydrogen peroxide
  • Enzymes, such as as diastase, invertases, glucose oxidase
  • Amino acids, the “building blocks” of protein
  • B vitamins (B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid)
  • Organic acids
  • Trace minerals and electrolytes, such as calcium, potassium, folate, phosphorus and others
  • Flavonoids and polyphenols
  • Alkaloids and glycosides
  • Volatile compounds

In the 1980s, researchers from New Zealand discovered that Manuka has a considerably higher level of beneficial compounds and enzymes than regular honey.

According to studies, some strains of this New Zealand honey are particularly rich in hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal (MGO) and dihydroxyacetone. The combination of these compounds has been shown to act as a natural antibacterial, potentially including against certain bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

The higher the UMF number that Manuka has (see more on this scale below), the high levels of these protective compounds that the honey has.

Health Benefits

1. Supports Digestive Health (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 it may be very beneficial at reducing acid reflux and balancing your digestive system to heal stomach and intestinal imbalances.

2. Promotes Skin Health

While there are few clinical trials to support claims that raw honey heals acne, if we take into account its antimicrobial and healing properties, it makes sense that it would help with a variety of skin conditions.

One review focused on Manuka’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,” however this still need to be confirmed by randomized trials.

Manuka is also widely used as a milia treatment. Milia are small, white bumps that appear on the skin, often under the eyes or around the cheeks. Manuka can be of mixed with cinnamon and applied in a thin layer to skin for 10–15 minutes to help reduce signs of inflammation and bumps.

A number of studies also show that Manuka may support healing of wounds. While you can try this at home, it’s best to avoid applying it to open or serious wounds.

3. May Help Treat Infections

Researchers have discovered that Manuka honey can defend against proliferation of destructive bacteria, as it naturally exhibits antimicrobial activity against a spectrum of microbes, including those with multi-drug resistance. Its antibacterial effects seem to be due to the honey’s low pH, ability to dehydrate bacteria due to the presence of MGO, and phytochemical content. MGO is regarded as the major antimicrobial constituent of Manuka, which makes it unique among honey varieties.

It may even downregulate the most potent genes of the MRSA bacteria (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), considered a “superbug” that causes patients to become very sick, and to resist the effects of commonly used antibiotics.

Some scientists now suggest that regular topical use of this honey on cuts and infections (especially in the hospital and nursing home setting) may keep MRSA naturally at bay.

4. Can Help Treat Burns, Wounds and Ulcers

Bandages containing Manuka are available both over-the-counter and by prescription to help with wound care. Many research studies have found evidence that honey can help to treat wounds and provide pain relief among people suffering from mild to moderate burns and wounds.

Some of the reasons this honey is used in wound care is because of its acidic nature/low pH, plus antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. Research shows it can to stimulate tissue regeneration, facilitate wound debridement, reduce inflammation, and decrease swelling.

Manuka has also been shown to prevent infections due to ulcers in certain animal studies and to block the growth of a specific type of bacteria that cause stomach ulcers in humans.

5. May Prevent Tooth Decay and Gingivitis

Several studies have demonstrated that Manuka can help to treat and prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Due to its antimicrobial activity, researchers from the School of Dentistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered that chewing or sucking on Manuka products not only caused a 35 percent decrease in plaque, but led to a 35 percent reduction in bleeding sites in people suffering from gingivitis. The calcium, zinc and phosphorus found in Manuka honey are also all important nutrients for healing teeth.

6. May Aids IBS and IBD Treatment

When evaluating the effect that Manuka has on experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease in rats, researchers involved in one study had some astounding findings:

  • Manuka 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 honey treated groups.
  • Manuka helped restore lipid peroxidation as well as improved antioxidant parameters.
  • In the inflammatory model of colitis, oral administration of Manuka significantly reduced colonic inflammation. It also helped decrease pain and seems to protect against free radical damage.

7. Can Help Reduce Sore Throats

Some research has shown that Manuka can stimulate immune cells and cytokine production in humans, potentially increasing immunity against certain pathogens and illnesses.

One study found that Manuka stops the growth of sore throat-causing Strep bacteria. It’s no wonder then 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. Can Help Reduce Seasonal Allergies

A study 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, or am allergy medication 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 on a regular basis may potentially help your seasonal allergy symptoms and lessen your need for medications.

9. Beauty Treatment and Health Booster

Taken daily, Manuka has an elixir effect that can boost energy, support detoxification and possibly help 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 nourishing mask that’ll add shine of your hair. Another favorite use is in a detox drink to get the most benefits inside and out.

10. May Improve Sleep

Manuka may help to 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.

Grading System

The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) is a global standard used to identify and measure the antibacterial strength of Manuka. Essentially, the UMF is a guarantee that the honey being sold is from New Zealand, of medicinal quality, and pure.

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 the honey is not considered to be very beneficial unless it carries a UMF 10+. This signifies that the honey has antibacterial activity. 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:

  1. A UMF trademark clearly labeled on the front of the container.
  2. Be from a New Zealand UMF-licensed company and labeled in New Zealand.
  3. The UMF company’s name and license number on the label.
  4. 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 bacteria.

Here is an explanation of what Manuka honey UMF you should use:

Another Manuka classification system exists that was developed and released by the company Wedderspoon. This classification system is called “KFactor,” which 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

There is only one grading system that is approved by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), a branch of the government. The MPI does not regulate gradings based on the UMF or Kfactor scales.

According to the MPI, all honey labelled as Manuka for export must be tested by an MPI-recognized laboratory to make sure it meets the definition of real Manuka honey, which is made up of a combination of 5 attributes (4 chemicals from nectar and 1 DNA marker from Mānuka pollen). This allows producers and consumers to separate Manuka honey from other honey types.

Recent guidelines issued by the MPI require that all companies selling Manuka use “Mono” and “Multifloral,” rather than pollen counts, to categorize their products. Monofloral Manuka is derived mostly from the Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) plant. Multifloral Manuka is a blend sourced from a variety of plant sources, but has a significant amount from the Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) plant.

Manuka vs. Regular Honey

The world of honey can be confusing considering there are so many types to choose from. In addition to more than 300 varieties of honey that are sold worldwide, consumers have the following options:

  • Pasteurized or raw honey
  • Filtered or unfiltered
  • Comb (with the edible beeswax inside) liquid or whipped
  • Local or imported

What is the difference between Manuka and regular honey? With Manuka, the nutritional content is up to four times that of normal flower honeys. Another difference is the Unique Manuka Factor explained above.

Why is Manuka honey so expensive compared to regular honey? As a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for, and most honey products at conventional supermarkets are not much different from high fructose corn syrup.

What sets Manuka apart is higher concentrations of compounds such as methylglyoxal, or MGO, which allows for Manuka to have antimicrobial effects that other honeys don’t have.

How to Buy and Use

Wondering how you can eat Manuka honey and where to find it? To get high-quality Manuka 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.

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 should you look for when purchasing this type of honey to eat?

Ideally, purchase from a reputable retailer and look for organic Manuka honey with a UMF of 15+ to maximize the potential benefits.

Another way to measure the medicinal properties of a product is to check the Manuka honey MGO. 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.

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.

Keep Manuka stored in a dry, cool place away from strong sunlight and humidity to keep it fresh.

How should you eat Manuka? What dosage should you take?

To experience the most benefits, use a Manuka honey dosage of about one to two tablespoons per day. The easiest way is to just take it straight by spoon, 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 effects or heal a sore throat, add one teaspoon of cinnamon. Research shows that the antimicrobial properties of cinnamon and Manuka honey may help you recover faster.

There are plenty of options for how to eat Manuka to take advantage of the many different benefits that it has to offer. Here are a few simple recipes to help you get started:

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, 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 or skin health or consuming it orally. Consider doing a patch test by applying a small amount on skin to assess your tolerance. 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.

Final Thoughts

  • New Zealand Manuka honey, which is often considered the healthiest type of honey, is made by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush.
  • What is Manuka honey good for? Studies show that it can boost digestion, support skin health, improve sleep, enhance immunity and more. Natural health practitioners often use it for acne, milia, gingivitis, stomach ulcers and more.
  • How does this type of honey work? It’s thought to kill off bacteria and stimulate the production of immune cells. Many of its benefits are due to methylglyoxal, or MGO, which has antibacterial effects.
  • 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 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.

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