Top 10 health benefits of manuka honey
What's special about manuka honey, what does 'UMF' mean, and are the health claims about this expensive ingredient really true? Registered nutritionist, Nicola Shubrook, takes a closer look.
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What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is native to New Zealand and is a dark honey produced by bees which pollinate the flowers of the manuka bush. Manuka honey contains active compounds, giving it natural antimicrobial properties – and it is this that sets it apart from regular honey.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our best honey recipes. Manuka honey is heat tolerant so it can be used in recipes such as our honey-roasted swede with chilli & cumin, or used in a dressing such as in our flaked salmon salad with honey dressing.
What is the UMF trademark?
UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor and is a quality trademark given to registered licensed beekeepers, producers and exporters of genuine manuka honey.
As well as looking for UMF on the label of any manuka honey product, you’ll also see a number such as 10+ or 25+, representing the level of unique signature compounds, methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in that specific honey – this is what gives the honey its purity and quality. The higher the number, the greater the MG and DHA content, and therefore the more pure and potent the honey is considered to be.
Nutritional profile of manuka honey
One teaspoon of manuka honey provides:
· 33 kcal / 137 KJ
· 8.4g carbohydrates
· 8.2g sugar
Honey, including manuka honey, is considered a ‘free’ sugar, the type we should look to minimise in our diets.
Top 10 health benefits of manuka honey
1. Supports wound-healing
Manuka honey is probably best known for its wound-healing properties. When applied directly to the wound it supports the healing process and reduces pain – so much so that the US Food and Drug Administration approved it as an option for wound treatment in 2015.
These effects are thanks to the antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of manuka honey and is why numerous studies demonstrate its benefits for tissue regeneration, superficial partial thickness burns, diabetic ulcers, eyelid wounds and post-surgery.
2. Soothes a sore throat
Honey and lemon are an age-old remedy for coughs and colds and studies support their effects. For example, one study in 2010 found that honey was more effective at alleviating a cough in children than over-the-counter cough suppressants. This was followed by revised guidelines in 2018 from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) to use honey as a first-line treatment to reduce the symptoms of a short-term cough.
Following the recent SARS Cov-2 (Covid-19) outbreak a study is currently looking at the efficacy of natural honey in the treatment of patients infected with Covid-19.
3. May support gut health
Manuka honey acts as a prebiotic, because it is a source of non-digestible carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides. We can’t digest these carbohydrates but the bacteria in our guts can. Using the oligosaccharides as a food source helps levels of ‘good’ bacteria, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, thrive.
4. May soothe a gastric ulcer
Test tube and animal studies have demonstrated the potential for manuka honey to help protect against the damaging effects of gastric ulcers. It does this in several ways, firstly by providing an anti-inflammatory effect, secondly by helping manage infections such as helicobacter pylori and finally by protecting the gut mucosa from damage.
5. May be helpful for gastroenteritis
There is some evidence that honey and especially manuka honey may help treat gut infections caused by bacterial strains like clostridium difficile. One benefit is that it appears to shorten the duration of symptoms such as diarrhoea.
6. May offer antiviral properties
A 2014 study of manuka honey found that in a laboratory setting, it efficiently inhibited influenza viruses, and another test tube study found it had significant activity against shingles.
However, more research, including human trials, are needed before we can draw any firm conclusions.
7. May be a useful for antibiotic-resistant infections
Antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly worrying issue and for this reason alternative therapies are constantly being sought. In 2020, a study investigating the application of medical-grade honey as an approach to treating multidrug-resistant infections showed significant promise.
8. May help prevent the build-up of dental plaque
Although honey may seem an odd food to encourage for dental health, it’s the anti-bacterial properties of manuka honey, that means it is not associated with dental cavities.
Studies suggest these anti-bacterial properties may be useful in minimising the build-up of dental plaque and as a result reducing the likelihood of gingivitis or other periodontal diseases. In particular, manuka honey inhibits the growth of less favourable oral bacteria such as Porphyomonas gingivalis.
9. May help manage cystic fibrosis
The potent anti-bacterial properties of manuka honey also appear to augment the effects of antibiotics in cystic fibrosis patients who have an upper respiratory infection. It does this by inhibiting the growth of bacteria like pseudomonas aeruginosa and burkholderia and in so doing may be a useful treatment strategy for the future.
10. May be effective against inflammatory skin conditions
Recognised for its anti-bacterial and wound-healing properties, manuka honey is now being trialled for its effect on other skin disorders, including rosacea and acne.
Test tube studies suggest honey is able to modulate the immune system of the skin, however, more research is needed to understand its value and potential as a treatment for a wider range of skin disorders.
What is a healthy portion of manuka honey?
A maximum of two teaspoons a day (15g) is a good portion size of manuka honey, as while it has many impressive health benefits, it is still high in sugar.
How to buy the best manuka honey
Firstly, check that it is from New Zealand and that it carries the UMF stamp and trademark.
The label should also carry the UMF rating such as 10+ or 25+. The higher the number, the better in terms of nutritional benefits – but the more expensive the product will be.
Is manuka honey safe for everyone?
Honey is safe for most adults however, it must be avoided if you are allergic to honey or bees.
Those with diabetes also need to be careful around their blood sugar levels when consuming manuka honey, as it is high in sugar.
The NHS also advises not to give honey to children under the age of one year old as occasionally it contains a bacteria that can be can cause serious illness in infants.
There are many health claims made about manuka honey. Some of these are based on limited, small-scale studies which, although promising, can’t be used to draw conclusions about its clinical use.
Always check with your GP or other health professional if you have concerns over its suitability for you.
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Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.