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Benefits of Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is said to have powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. What's the science to support these claims? Nutrition Diva tracks down the facts.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
September 4, 2013
Episode #250

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What's the Scientific Research on Manuka Honey?

Several dozen studies have been done to test the healing properties of manuka honey. A lot of them have to do with using sterilized manuka honey as a dressing for burns and other types of wounds. Before I tell you what they found, allow me one quick sidebar:  Many people, when they read that honey is a natural antibiotic, don't realize that these antibacterial properties only work outside of the body. As far as we know, eating honey does not kill germs, parasites, cancer cells, or anything else, inside your body.

The good news is that none of the subjects lost their sense of smell or had their teeth fall out. The bad news is that the manuka honey didn't appear to offer any substantive medical benefits, either.

In any case, a bunch of studies have confirmed that manuka honey exhibits antibacterial effects in petri dishes. (So do lots of other kinds of honey.) Several other studies have found that manuka honey is an effective dressing for wounds or burns. However, it does not appear to be any more effective than existing antibacterial wound dressings--and is significantly less cost effective. Sadly, it had no effect on ingrown toenails. Maybe it's just as well. Who wants to be walking around with sticky feet?

A few trials have evaluated the use of manuka honey in spaces that are sort of halfway between inside and outside the body. It's been tested as a medicinal mouth rinse and a nasal spray, The good news is that none of the subjects lost their sense of smell or had their teeth fall out. The bad news is that the manuka honey didn't appear to offer any substantive medical benefits, either. And I'd specifically recommend against squirting manuka honey in your ears. When researchers did this to lab animals, it "caused severe or intense inflammatory changes that produced facial paralysis, vestibulotoxicity, and hearing loss."

As I mentioned earlier, some people say that eating manuka honey improves digestion. And I did find one study that examined this claim. Eating high-UMF manuka honey didn't seem to cause any problems, such as allergic reactions. However, it also did not appear to affect or improve digestive function or the levels of friendly bacteria in the gut.

Should You Use Manuka Honey?

Here's my take on manuka honey: Applying it to minor burns or other boo-boos might help prevent infection and promote healing. Neosporin will do the same thing for a lot less money, plus you won't be walking ant bait. 

As for eating the stuff, I've never had manuka honey but apparently, it has a strong flavor and somewhat oily consistency. If you like that sort of thing (and you don't mind the price tag), feel free to stir some manuka honey into your tea or yogurt, or to spread it on your toast. But don't expect any special digestive or other health benefits. And keep in mind that all honey is a concentrated source of sugars and should be consumed in moderation.

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic, send it to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.  Also, be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter for more tips, recipes, and answers to your questions! 

Honey image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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