Manuka Honey – Fact Or Fad?
In times gone by, honey was honey. It was just the delicious golden treacle that bees made and humans then stole. You may have put it on toast, in tea, or drizzled it all over your favourite dessert. Nowadays, things are quite different. People have become extremely picky when it comes to the type of honey they consume, and the most popular choice among honey enthusiasts today is – hands down – manuka honey.
You don’t have to be an apiarist to know what manuka honey is; the stuff is everywhere these days. Health food shops and supermarkets alike now all have a diverse range of manuka honey products – all ostensibly the same product, just from different brands. They still sell regular honey too, but they’re particularly proud of their extensive manuka honey offerings.
You might have also noticed that products containing honey are now going out of their way to make sure you know they use manuka honey, not just any old honey.
The insinuation is that the soap or face cream or whatever you’re buying is far superior to the stuff using plain, tired old honey.
After all, this honey has a name, so it must be better, right?
The same goes for food. If the cake you pick up from the supermarket has a “manuka honey drizzle”, then you can expect to pay a hell of a lot more for it than the cake next to it with the boring “honey drizzle”.
It’s not just any cake after all…
We can certainly understand the desire to experience more refined food options. Extra virgin olive oil does have a distinctive taste that regular olive oil does not. Some wines are far superior to others – we get it.
But what we can’t forgive are the medicinal claims being made about manuka honey!
Some individuals have been saying that manuka honey has health-promoting, life-extending properties.
Others have been spreading the idea that manuka honey can prevent illnesses, or in some cases, cure them.
We’re going to take a look at the evidence – if there is any – behind these claims. We’ll explain what manuka honey is, where it comes from, and whether or not it actually does any of the things people are saying about it.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section at the bottom of the article.
What Is Manuka Honey?
It’s worth actually looking at what manuka honey is, where it comes from, and what makes it distinct to other honeys.
Simply put, manuka honey is honey made from the pollen of the manuka plant; a flowering plant native to New Zealand and Australia.
That is all – the origin of the pollen is what makes different kinds of honey…different.
Now, most commercially produced honey is pasteurized (heated to a very high temperature) and filtered before it is bottled and shipped to buyers. This is done to “clean” the honey; killing any bacteria present and removing things like pollen and wax.
Manuka honey is often sold in “raw” form, meaning that it has not gone through this process.
Sometimes it is sold as filtered, but not pasteurized.
Pasteurized, filtered manuka honey is becoming increasingly common, but you will still pay top dollar for a raw manuka honey product, and it remains the most sought-after.
What Is It Supposed To Do?
According to many people on the internet – and according to many manufacturers – manuka honey has some pretty incredible properties.
The central claim made about manuka honey, the one we see repeated the most, is that it improves the body’s ability to heal. This is often worded in different ways – “reduces inflammation”, “increases immune response”, etc. But the basic idea is that it promotes general wellness and overall good health, as well as rapid recovery from sickness or injury.
Surprisingly, there is some evidence for this claim.
Manuka honey does appear to have antibacterial and antimicrobial action.
If you read this literature review, you’ll see that manuka honey has been found to be effective at ameliorating infections of various kinds in some fairly robust clinical trials.
To quote the authors:
“In vitro studies combining therapeutically approved manuka honey with antibiotic agents have found a synergistic effect with oxacillin, tetracycline, imipenem and mupirocin against the growth of an MRSA strain. Furthermore, the presence of a sub-inhibitory concentration of honey in combination with oxacillin restored the MRSA strain to oxacillin susceptibility…Case reports using honey for non-healing wounds and ulcers have noted significant improvement with resolution of infection where conventional antibiotics had failed”. (Published 2016 in Frontiers in Microbiology).
That sounds really exciting at face value. However, you should note that the authors made quite a big caveat immediately after making these statements:
“However, despite this and the evidence from numerous in vitro and in vivomodels that honey kills problematic wound pathogens, there is a paucity of robust clinical data for manuka honey. There are various reasons for this, including technical difficulties in performing a double-blind placebo-controlled trial on a distinctive substance like honey, ethical considerations, lack of interest by clinical practitioners and cost-versus-benefit to honey companies, whose focus is on natural products and over-the-counter sales where manuka honey and associated dressings already command a premium price.”
So despite some initially promising findings, you need to be aware that there really are few studies looking at this, and there is unlikely to be more carried out int he future because it conflicts with the interests of the only people probably willing to pay for it – honey companies.
There is also some evidence that manuka honey is able to speed up wound healing and help improve the healing process overall.
This study found that wounds treated with manuka honey show significant shrinkage in a relatively fast time. It also found that patients reported little pain during recovery.
However, we’re not going to bother talking about this study in great detail.
It was a small-scale trial conducted without a control.
So all the researchers did was apply honey to a wound and then confirm that the wound was still able to heal.
No comparison was made with regular treatment, or even giving patients no treatment at all.
Always be sure to read studies carefully in full before drawing any conclusions. Trials carried out without control aren’t really trials at all! Controlling for other variables is the foundation of the scientific method.
So What Can Manuka Honey Really Do?
So what have we found here?
We’re found that slathering manuka honey on your wounds will not prevent them from healing.
There is absolutely no evidence that applying manuka honey to wounds will help them heal any faster than proper antiseptic medications or other standard treatments that have been VALIDATED BY SCIENCE.
There is certainly no evidence that EATING manuka honey will help with healing, just as eating antiseptic cream wont help your foot heal any faster!
Manuka honey seems to have some antimicrobial properties. But again, why would this mean that you should eat it?
It seems to us pretty clear that manuka honey is very similar to every other kind of honey in terms of nutritional profile and healthful properties – it’s basically pure sugar, but much more delicious.
If you’re looking for something to put on your dessert, into your herbal teas, or on your morning toast, then just buy regular honey for a decent price (from sustainable farms). We see absolutely no reason to spend so much more money buying honey made from this particular plant.