WebMD takes a look at what the science says about using manuka honey as a medicine.
Healing Power of Honey
Honey has been used since ancient times to treat multiple conditions. It wasn't until the late 19th century that researchers discovered that honey has natural antibacterial qualities.Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Some honey also stimulates production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. In addition, honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly reduce pain and inflammation once it is applied.
But not all honey is the same. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it's harvested. Some kinds of honey may be 100 times more potent than others.
Components of Manuka Honey
Hydrogen peroxide is a component of honey. It gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, also have other components with antibacterial qualities.
The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.
In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound -- dihydroxyacetone -- that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.
MG is thought to give manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect.
Honey producers have developed a scale for rating the potency of manuka honey. The rating is called UMF, which stands for Unique Manuka Factor.
The UMF rating corresponds with the concentration of MG. Not all honey labeled as manuka honey contains significant levels of MG. To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF. Honey at or above that level is marketed as "UMF Manuka Honey" or "Active Manuka Honey."
How Manuka Honey Is Used
The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns.
Manuka honey is also marketed for use in many other conditions. These include:
- Preventing and treating cancer
- Reducing high cholesterol
- Reducing systemic inflammation
- Treating diabetes
- Treating eye, ear, and sinus infections
- Treating gastrointestinal problems
The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey. It is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing. So the jar of manuka honey in the pantry should not be considered part of a first aid kit. Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a health care professional.