Honey has been used for Thousands of Years as a Medicine
Honey has been used as both a food and a medicine for thousands of years. More recently honey has attracted attention largely because of its effect in aiding wound healing. Honey benefits wounds in several ways; by keeping the wound moist, reducing inflammation, helping to breakdown dead tissue, and reducing healing time and scarring. Honey also has a natural antimicrobial effect due to its ability to produce hydrogen peroxide giving it a role in treating infected wounds. While all honey has some antimicrobial effect due the hydrogen peroxide effect, manuka honey is a far more effective antimicrobial. Research has shown the specific antimicrobial benefits of manuka honey are due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO). Manuka honey has been used to successfully treat infected and non-infected wounds, burns, surgical incisions, leg ulcers, pressure sores, traumatic injuries, meningococcal lesions, side effects from radiotherapy and gingivitis (inflamed gums). Of particular interest is that bacteria do not seem to be capable of developing a resistance to MGO, and that MGO is effective against some bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics such as staphylococcus aureus (golden staph). Because honey is rapidly digested it is unsuitable as an alternative to antibiotics in general, and relies on direct contact with harmful bacteria to kill them.
Manuka Honey high in methylglyoxal
The term ‘manuka’ originally referred to honey from a New Zealand native tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium. New Zealand only has one Leptospermum species, but Australia has over 80 some of which also result in high MGO honey, and the term manuka may refer to either Australian or New Zealand Lepospermum honey. The level of MGO in a given batch of honey will determine its level of antimicrobial activity and differentiates a product which is mainly a food from one which has distinct medicinal properties. According to ‘Australia’s Manuka’ (an Australian ‘manuka’ brand), MGO levels should be at least at 250 mg/kg for medical use, with products with 820mg/kgs MGO ideal for wound care and oral care. Of course, the cost of the product increases with the rising MGO content. A look at the honey in local supermarkets shows a range of manuka products varying from undeclared MGO content to clearly labelled but relatively low levels. Higher MGO products are easy to find in health food stores, of course the cost of the product increases with the rising MGO content.
Manuka for Sore Throats and more
With winter ills still affecting many people manuka honey offers a first line approach with sore throats. The honey coats the inner lining of the throat and destroys the harmful microbes (including Streptococcus) while also soothing the throat. A study found that 2.5-5 ml of honey (not necessarily manuka) before bed was more effective at relieving night time cough in children than some commonly prescribed cough medicines.
Research shows a range of other benefits of honey. The antibacterial effects of honey are useful for oral health, addressing some of the organisms responsible for bad breath and periodontal disease. Honey acts as a prebiotic encouraging the growth of health gut flora. Honey can be used in gastroesophageal reflux, dyspepsia, gastritis and peptic ulcer and can inhibit the ulcer causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Manuka honey on an empty stomach has been shown to help some people with irritable bowel syndrome. Investigations show that honey may have a beneficial role in cardiovascular health as well in a role in some cancers.
Honey is not the only bee product to have health benefits. Propolis (the resinous ‘glue’ that seals cracks in bee hives) and royal jelly (the food of the queen bee) also have numerous medical properties. All our medicines first came from nature and not the laboratory. The research into honey and bee products shows that nature’s role in providing medicines is not over yet.
Pasupuleti VR, Sammugam L, Ramesh N, Gan SH. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017;2017:1259510. doi:10.1155/2017/1259510. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549483/
Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jul;16(7):787-93.doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0311. PubMed PMID: 20618098. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20618098/