Manuka Honey: What’s all the hype about?

Lujain Alkhalaf

As the colder months are just around the corner, there’s never a better time for us to be taking care of our health and immune system. Manuka honey has an impressive list of health claims, is it a key ingredient to consider adding to your cupboard?

The key question many of us ask ourselves, is how does Manuka honey differ from the cheaper regular honey we buy in the supermarket? Well, the main difference comes from the flower each honey is sourced from.

Regular honey is mainly made from clover, sunflower, buckwheat and other common plants, whereas Manuka honey is only made from the nectar of the Manuka plant that is native to New Zealand. As Manuka honey comes from a single plant and single country; it’s less common than regular honey which adds to its high price tag.

Additionally, regular honey undergoes greater processing and endures a heating process which strips the honey from key enzymes, vitamins and minerals. In comparison Manuka honey undergoes little processing  and is strictly monitored to ensure its purity. Each jar of Manuka honey contains a Unique Manuka Factor number (UMF) which means the honey is 100% genuine and has been scientifically tested to determines its purity.

Typically, the UMF rating ranges from 5+ to 25+.  A higher UMF grade indicates a greater presence of the Unique Manuka Honey attributes; the purer the honey is.

The UMF reflects the:

  • DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) which determines the age of the honey.
  • MGO (Methylglyoxal) the active ingredient which gives Manuka honey its antibacterial properties.
  • Leptosperin, a naturally occurring compound found only in the nectar of Manuka plants; used to check the authenticity of Manuka honey.

So is Manuka honey worth the hype? There is evidence that Manuka honey has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of these properties Manuka honey is believed to aid in the healing of wounds, with the US Food and Drug Administration having approved Manuka Honey (at a medicial grade i.e. impurities have been removed) as an option for wound treatment in 2015.

Additionally, Manuka honey is believed to support digestive health: it may protect from gastric ulcers through providing an anti-inflammatory effect. It can improve the level of good bacteria in the digestive system which may reduce abdominal inflammation and irregular bowel movements, and it may treat gut infections.

Manuka honey has been shown to soothe a sore throat; The National Institute for Care Excellence released new guidance in 2018 to use honey as a first-line treatment for reducing symptoms of a cough.  However, there is little evidence that shop bought Manuka honey is anymore effective than any other kind of shop bought honey.

There are also  potential anti-viral effects, as one 2014 study showed in-vitro the honey can efficiently inhibit viruses such as influenza. A study by Cardiff University also suggested that the honey could have a significant impact on the fight against anti-biotic resistant inflections (MSRAs). However, there needs to be more significant research before this is but into practice and it is unclear if consuming the honey in your diet will make a significant difference.

So does this mean that Manuka honey is here to improve everyone’s health? Unfortunately, not necessarily. Along with the high price it is unclear whether key parts of Manuka honey, such as methylglyoxal, survive digestion.

So,  if you are thinking of investing in a jar of Manuka honey, not only do you need to check the UMF rating but knowing how to consume it, is important. To ensure you get all the benefits consuming one to two tablespoons daily of raw honey is recommended (as it’s still high in sugars no more than 2 tablespoons should be consumed). If you don’t want to consume it raw, add it to a smoothie, a cold drink, some yogurt but don’t boil it as this reduces its health properties.

Lujain Alkhalaf

Featured image courtesy of Carlos Ebert via Flickr. Image licence found here.

Article image courtesy of Wei-Hang Chua via Flickr. Image licence found here.

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