Manuka Honey Research

Honey has a long history of safe use as food and an equally long history as a traditional medicine for its antimicrobial activity, including protection from pathogens and external wound healing.

There is also suggested evidence that honey has many beneficial health effects such as antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activities. It is currently used in hospitals and vet clinics for wound cleaning and healing.

Honey has antimicrobial activity that is effective against all types of bacteria and some fungi, especially against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (the so-called superbugs).

Honey has a number of aspects that makes it unattractive for bacterial growth.

  • Honey is a super saturated sugar solution, and like jam and other preserves bacteria have a hard time growing in it. However, Staphyloccus aureus, “the most common wound-infecting species”, is tolerant of high-sugar environments.
  • Honey is highly acidic. However, once diluted with bodily fluids like saliva or blood from a wound, it becomes more neutral and ineffective.
  • Honey contains hydrogen peroxide, and several researchers have shown a direct relationship between antibacterial activity and levels of hydrogen peroxide.

Nevertheless, honey originating from New Zealand manuka often exhibits antibacterial activity (UMF) that is unrelated to the content of hydrogen peroxide, which is responsible for the antibacterial activity of other honey. To make it simple, this antibacterial property in manuka honey is referred to as non-peroxide activity, which is unique to manuka honey and is due to the presence of methylglyoxal.

What makes non-peroxidal activity special is that it is not affected by the catalase enzyme present in serum, saliva, blood and tissues of the body. Hydrogen peroxide’s antibacterial activity present in other honeys will be broken down by catalase, therefore reducing the antibacterial potency of honey.

A very important advantage of manuka honey over that of other honey is that the enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide is destroyed when honey is exposed to heat and light, or stored in warm conditions. But the non-peroxide antibacterial activity of manuka honey is stable, so there is no concern about genuine Active Manuka Honey losing its activity in storage.

The major usage of honey for treatment of infection has been in wound care, but there is increasing interest in its use to treat infections in the nose. Honey has been registered with the regulatory authorities in Australia for use in treatment of the eyes, and a small clinical trial has established its effectiveness in treating gingivitis. There is a large amount of evidence from clinical trials that demonstrates the effectiveness on clearing infection from wounds.

Scientific research indicate that honey has a potent anti-inflammatory activity and does not slow the healing of wounds, and has been used to treat infection and damage to eyes. Research at the University of Waikato in New Zealand discovered that a protein which bees add to the nectar they collect to make honey (Apalbumin 1) suppresses early inflammation caused by the action of white blood cells engulfing bacteria and other particles.

In addition, the high concentration of MGO in manuka honey enhances the activity of Apalbumin 1 and makes it more effective in suppressing white blood cells.

While the benefits of Honey is evident, concerns that honey as a cure-all are misplaced. Honey’s greatest potential as an antimicrobial agent in medicine is where it is in direct contact with the site of infection.