Manuka honey—it’s in skin creams, wound dressings, capsules, lozenges, drinks, eye gels, lip balms and body lotions. You can also eat it straight from the jar, but is it worth it?
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Winnie the Pooh dreams of swimming in honey, sailing a honey boat and eating “lots and lots of pots and pots of the sticky, licky stuff.” Novak Djokovic is rumoured to eat two spoons a day and Albert Einstein said, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
In the Bible, many of the Proverbs extol the health benefits of honey; they also warn against over-indulgence—and that’s probably the correct manuka message.
Manuka honey is a powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. Evidence suggests that swallowing a spoonful may soothe sore throats and reduce gum disease, indigestion and reflux. In one study, manuka was seen to be as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash (commonly used by dentists) in reducing dental plaque.
Manuka honey, from the manuka tree in New Zealand and Australia, is magic when it comes to killing bacteria: no other honey can match it. Professor Dee Carter from Sydney University reports that, to date, manuka has been able to kill all bacteria tested—including the notorious E-Coli and even MRSA. Could manuka be the answer to antibiotic resistance?
Adding manuka to well-known antibiotics has been shown to reduce or even reverse bacterial resistance to the antibiotics. Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, warned of an “antibiotic apocalypse” as antibiotics cease to work. Manuka may avert the apocalypse.
The healing honey is also looking hopeful in the fight against viruses (such as those that cause chicken pox and influenza) and fungi (such as athletes foot).
Despite its promise, manuka is still viewed as mysterious, considered as “complementary” or “alternative” therapy by most doctors. It will only be accepted by mainstream medicine once further clinical trials are carried out and scientists better understand how it works.
Manuka has, however, received acceptance as a tried-and-tested treatment for wounds: not applied directly from the jar, but in the form of dressings impregnated with irradiated, sterile manuka. In the nursing home where I work, chronic leg ulcers have healed as manuka moisturises the injured tissue, fights the infection and soothes the inflammation. Manuka also reduces wound odour.
Skin studies suggest that sterile medical manuka may help with burns, acne, eczema, psoriasis, wrinkles, dandruff and even piles. Miracle manuka— the skin saviour?
“It is not good to eat much honey…eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it” (Proverbs 25)
According to the British National Formulary (the doctors’ drug bible), “honey should not be used on patients with extreme sensitivity to honey or bee-stings. Patients with diabetes should be monitored for changes in blood glucose concentrations.” Babies under the age of one should not eat honey, since there is a small risk of botulism food poisoning.
The average bee will make only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime; bees must tap two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Be prudent and treat it and eat it as the gold that it is.
Helen Cowan completed a PhD in cardiac pharmacology at Oxford in 2002. She is a qualified nurse and has written for the British Journal of Cardiac Nursing, and worked as a columnist in the Nursing Times. Read more from Helen here.