Manuka honey is the bees knees

The anti-bacterial properties of Manuka honey are so potent that it can heal wounds, treat stomach ulcers – and even fight MRSA.

Rosanna Macpherson
Tuesday 26 May 2009 00:00 BST

Manuka honey is a sticky golden indulgence that doesn't just taste delicious on your toast, it can also boost your health. Originally produced in New Zealand, Britain's first Mauka maker, Tregothnan, based in Cornwall, is now offering pots of its honey for £55 a jar. Manufactured in special beehives costing £5000 each, the Manuka commands a high price because it possesses proven medicinal qualities – as well as being a treat for those with a sweet tooth.

What exactly is manuka honey?

Manuka is a mono-floral honey, so-called because the bees that make that it only gather pollen from the Manuka bush (Leptospermum Scoparium). The plant is indigenous to New Zealand but Britain and the USA are both beginning to grow it as well. Not all Manuka honey has healing properties – the type to keep in the medicine cupboard is that which has an "active" quality, meaning that its enzymes create chemical reactions within the honey. This quality is detected through laboratory testing in order to gain the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) rating which adorns jars of medical-grade honey.

Professor Peter Molan of the Honey Research Unit of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, says "Manuka has a very broad spectrum of action. It works on bacteria, fungi and protozoa. We haven't found anything it doesn't work on among infectious organisms."

Why is it so potent?

One of the most radical uses of Manuka is as a preventative for MRSA in open wounds. The sugars present in the honey create the effect of osmosis; whereby sugars in the honey attract all the water particles in the wound, depriving infectious bacteria of their vital source for growth. This reduces the likeliness of the infection spreading. Hydrogen Peroxide has also been found within the honey and acts as a anti-bacterial substance. The bees release an enzyme which in water converts sugar and oxygen to glucoronic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Manuka honey has a pH of 3.2 – 4.5 which is low enough to reduce the development of many pathogens. Manuka was licensed for use by the NHS to fight MRSA in cancer patients in 2004 after trials in Manchester's Christie Hospital.

How does it aid healing?

The anti-bacterial qualities in Manuka also help to promote faster healing in deep wounds. The active enzymes in the honey cause dead skin cells to lift off the wound leaving a clean area for regeneration. The honey is said to stimulate the growth of new blood capillaries, replace connective tissues and produce the collagen fibres that give strength to healing wounds. Compared with routine treatments that had a 50 per cent success rate, the European Journal of Medical Research found Manuka boasted an 85 per cent figure when used to treat contaminated caesarean and hysterectomy wounds.

Is it easy to stomach?

Manuka honey has had positive results when used to treat stomach ulcers caused by helicobacter pylori bacteria, also a cause of stomach cancer. The active form of Manuka honey eliminates h. pylori and is a safe, cost-effective treatment that can be taken without the need for a prescription. Professor Molan suggests taking a teaspoon of Manuka honey with a small amount of bread three times a day to relieve digestive issues such as acid reflux, indigestion and gastritis. Manuka's anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties help reduce the pain of these stomach complaints.

What else can it be used for?

Manuka is increasingly being used in burn treatments. It helps stop secondary infections and decreases the likelihood of the patient needing skin grafts because the skin regenerates quickly with less scarring when the honey is used. Some forms of Eczema have also seen improvements with Manuka-based products. Due to the osmotic effect the honey creates, it can draw moisture into the affected area alleviating inflammation and soreness associated with eczema. Manuka can help to reduce acne and skin blemishes. It can be applied in the form of a face mask or mixed with moisturiser to help nourish the skin. The honey helps to kill bacteria that build up around hair follicles and larger pores that lead to acne.

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