For millennia, people have used honey to treat wounds, improve digestion or calm coughs. But more recently, a type of honey that's reputed to be even more powerful than others, known as Mānuka, has become wildly popular.
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And the hype around it has led people to cough up some serious cash for the natural sweetener. Here's what we know about the health benefits of manuka honey and how to avoid buying a fake jar.
Read more: Good and Bad Effects From Eating Honey
What Is Mānuka Honey and How's It Different from Regular Honey?
Mānuka is a honey made from the nectar of the rare mānuka flower (Leptospermum scoparium), which blooms only a few weeks per year, in New Zealand. The honey is often harvested in wild, remote regions, and is one of the most expensive types of honey.
Most honey gets its antibacterial activity from hydrogen peroxide, which is created when bees expel nectar along with an enzyme, glucose oxidase, from their stomachs. Hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria by destroying their cell walls. Mānuka honey is unique, however: The honey contains high levels of a specific antibacterial compound, methylglyoxal (MGO), according to an April 2008 study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
According to a June 2018 study in Letters in Applied Microbiology, mānuka honey has far higher levels of MGO than other honey, giving it stronger antimicrobial activity compared to other types of honey. And unlike hydrogen peroxide, MGO is relatively stable when exposed to heat and light. That's led many to think that Mānuka honey could be a more effective home remedy than ordinary honey.
1. Mānuka Honey for Skin
Because of Mānuka honey's high MGO content, some people use it in face masks to treat acne. While Mānuka honey is a natural humectant, meaning it draws moisture into the skin, there has been little research on mānuka honey as a viable treatment for blemishes or fine lines for the DIY beauty advocate.
However, Mānuka honey was found to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of bacterial infections such as staph, per a 2018 study published in AIMS Microbiology. Another found that Mānuka honey has regenerative properties for skin tissue and aids in wound healing, per a 2017 study in Current Drug Metabolism.
In fact, Mānuka honey's skin benefits are promising enough that it was approved as a recommended natural alternative for wound treatment by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2007.
2. Does Mānuka Have Immunity Benefits?
One of Mānuka honey's most notable claims to fame is its immune-boosting and cold-soothing properties.
"Mānuka honey helps to soothe sore throats," Ellie Bullen, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Its unique antimicrobial activity may prevent [bacterial] throat infections and maintain immune health." Besides prevention, adding some Mānuka honey to tea or taking a spoonful orally is a great way to sooth a cold naturally.
One July 2010 study found that taking a half teaspoon of honey before bed helped suppress a cough caused by an upper respiratory infection more effectively than medication did, per research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. More research needs to be conducted to see whether Mānuka honey, specifically, has a more potent effect than regular honey on a cough.
3. Mānuka May Be Good for Your Gut
Mānuka honey can also have a myriad of benefits for your gut. According to a May 2013 study published in BMC Research Notes, Mānuka honey was effective in treating patients who had C. difficile, inhibiting bacterial growth and suggesting manuka may aid in treating the infection commonly responsible for diarrhea.
"Mānuka honey also contains a group of antioxidants called phenols, which contribute to the bacteria-fighting properties of the honey," explains Shelby Burns, RN. Ingesting phenols to maintain a healthy gut microbiome is a large area of interest to scientists; but while studies published as recent as this August 2015 study in Food & Function showed that there are links between phenols and gut health, more research needs to be done to better understand the connection.
How to Use Mānuka Honey
Mānuka can be used both topically and ingested — but make sure to use it sparingly as a little goes a long way.
- Use it on your skin. Mānuka can be applied straight to your skin to treat a wound,
burn or sore but be sure to spot test your skin for any allergic reaction before
- Drizzle it on foods for some flavor. For immunity or gut health, incorporating Mānuka into drinks, snacks and meals can be a great way to reap the benefits, but be wary. "Before you add a heaping spoonful to meals and snacks, please keep in mind that mānuka
honey is still sugar — one tablespoon has around 60 to 70 calories and 17 grams
of sugar," Burns explains.
Less than 10 percent of our daily calories should come from sugar, so to keep your intake in check, Burns recommends keeping it simple and adding Mānuka honey to tea or simply drizzling some on toast or oatmeal. "If you're adding it to yogurt, the protein and carb mix will help keep blood sugar levels more stable than just consuming the sugar on its own."
Best Mānuka Honey to Buy (and How to Avoid the Fakes)
When purchasing Mānuka honey for the medicinal benefit of methylglyoxal, it's important to buy a jar with a higher level of MGO, marked on the jar per the MGO scale.
According to a 2018 study published in AIMS Microbial, the higher the UMF and MGO levels, the more antibacterial a Mānuka honey is. For the most health benefits, look for an MGO level in the 400 to 500+ range to ensure you are getting enough of Mānuka's potent properties.
While Mānuka honey has been shown to have healing benefits, one of the largest problems with Mānuka honey is fraud. Only about 17 percent of Mānuka honey sold on the global market is authentic, according to Bloomberg.
In fact, the problem is so rampant that some companies have started to add synthetic MGO and other untested chemicals into mānuka to pass authenticity tests, per New Zealand Food Safety. Besides spending a lot of money on a jar that's not the real thing, ingesting untested chemicals used to cheat tests should be avoided at all costs.
To make sure you are buying authentic Mānuka honey that has the active properties you are looking for, make sure to only purchase jars of manuka bearing a Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF) quality trademark.
This label means your honey has been tested for authenticity by an independent third-party lab for up to 12 unique biochemical markers of Mānuka, and is represented as a UMF symbol alongside a rating on the front of your jar. Like MGO, UMF works on a scale, which ranges from 5+ to 20+ with the latter being the most potent, indicating the potency and antibacterial levels of mānuka honey.
Wondering Which Jar to Buy?
- Molecular Nutrition & Food Research: "Identification and Quantification of Methylglyoxal as the Dominant Antibacterial Constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum Scoparium) Honeys From New Zealand"
- AIMS Microbiology: "Antibacterial Activity of Manuka Honey and Its Components"
- Current Drug Metabolism: "Health Benefits of Manuka Honey as an Essential Constituent for Tissue Regeneration"
- BMC Research Notes: "Antibacterial Effect of Manuka Honey on Clostridium difficile"
- Food & Function: "The Relationship Between Phenolic Compounds From Diet and Microbiota: Impact on Human Health"
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "A Comparison of the Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and Diphenhydramine on Nightly Cough and Sleep Quality in Children and Their Parents"
- USDA MyFoodData: "Honey"
- New Zealand Food Safety: "Evergreen Brand Mānuka Honey Products"
- Letters in Applied Microbiology: "Manuka Honey and Methylglyoxal Increase the Sensitivity of Staphylococcus Aureus to Linezolid"