When you're feeling under the weather, you may turn to the home remedy of hot water, lemon and a drizzle of honey to soothe what ails you — but did you know that honey may have other benefits outside of providing comfort when you're sick (as long as you're using the right type)?
Mānuka honey is a special type of honey from New Zealand that is rich in properties that may help support your health. It's most well-known for soothing a sore throat, but it also boasts a variety of lesser-known uses, including gut health support.
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"Mānuka honey contains oligosaccharides, which are a carbohydrate that act as a prebiotic, feeding the healthy bacteria in our gut. [Those bacteria can] support a healthy gut, overall health, mood, digestion, weight, etc.," says Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition NYC.
Keep reading to learn more about the three properties of Mānuka honey that make it a useful ingredient for digestive support.
1. It's Anti-Inflammatory
Mānuka honey has anti-inflammatory properties thanks in part to its prebiotic nature. Because it behaves as a prebiotic, it provides support to the gut microbiome. A balanced gut microbiome is linked to less inflammation overall, according to a February 2017 Gut Microbes article.
Shapiro says more research is needed on the anti-inflammatory properties of Mānuka honey. One of the only studies of its kind was conducted in rats and published in November 2008 in Phytotherapy Research. It found the honey decreased inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease in the rats. More studies in humans are needed to know if the effects would be similar.
2. It Contains Antioxidants
Mānuka honey is high in antioxidants, which help to protect our bodies from cell damage caused by oxidative stress and free radicals. According to a September 2021 Antioxidants article, food-derived antioxidant compounds may help protect against intestinal oxidative stress by regulating the composition of beneficial microbial species in the gut.
Additionally, a September 2012 Molecules study that tested four different varieties of honey in a lab instead of on humans found that Mānuka honey had the highest phenolic content out of the four. As there is a high correlation between phenolic content and antioxidant activity, the study found that honey is a highly palatable way to provide antioxidants, although honey by itself may not serve as a major source of dietary antioxidants.
If you're looking to increase your antioxidant intake to help support your digestive health, Shapiro recommends adding Mānuka honey to your routine. She notes you can add it to a smoothie, use it to sweeten tea or coffee or eat it right off the spoon. Just make sure you're getting the real deal from a reputable source, like Comvita.
3. It Has Antiseptic Properties
One big difference between regular honey and Mānuka honey comes from its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, which means it can kill or slow the spread of microorganisms, according to a May 2013 BMC Research study.
"[Mānuka honey] has antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which can help with healing the gut lining and preventing pathogens from creating illness in the body," Shapiro says. "It is also high acid and low pH, so it [can help] prevent the growth of microbes."
Its antiseptic properties can help with internal healing (such as in your gut), Shapiro says. For example, the BMC Research study — which was conducted in a lab rather than on humans — concluded that Mānuka honey might be an effective treatment for C. difficile, a type of bacteria that causes infection in the large intestine and can lead to gastric issues such as diarrhea, but more research is needed.
Similarly, a February 2014 World Journal of Gastroenterology study found Mānuka honey can help inhibit the growth of H. pylori — a type of bacteria that infects the stomach and can cause inflammation and ulcers — but noted further research is needed before determining whether it could be an effective alternative or complementary treatment.
For Maximum Benefits, Make Sure It's UMF-Certified
Not all Mānuka honey is created equally. Shapiro notes that real Mānuka honey only comes from New Zealand and should have a UMF certification, which stands for Unique Mānuka Factor.
The UMF certification verifies that the honey has been lab tested for all four of the chemical markers of Mānuka honey: methylglyoxal, leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone and hydroxymethylfurfural, which respectively designate the potency (on a scale from 5+ to 20+), authenticity, shelf life and freshness of the honey, according to the UMF site.
An easy way to ensure you're getting real Mānuka honey is by buying UMF-certified honey from a trustworthy brand like Comvita, which has been producing well-researched and sustainably sourced Mānuka honey for nearly 50 years and is widely regarded as a global Mānuka leader.
- Gut Microbes: Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota
- Phytotherapy Research: Effect of different doses of Manuka honey in experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease in rats
- BMC Research: Antibacterial effect of Manuka honey on Clostridium difficile
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: Exploring alternative treatments for Helicobacter pylori infection
- Antioxidants: Role of Food Antioxidants in Modulating Gut Microbial Communities: Novel Understandings in Intestinal Oxidative Stress Damage and Their Impact on Host Health
- Antibacterial and Antioxidant Potency of Floral Honeys from Different Botanical and Geographical Origins
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.