Too bee or not to bee, that is the question.
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At least when it comes to manuka honey, a type of honey that originates from certain parts of Australia and New Zealand.
It’s produced by bees that pollinate the flowers found on a manuka bush, a kind of tea tree.
Traditionally used to heal wounds, soothe a sore throat and prevent tooth decay, manuka honey has become a buzzy ingredient lately. And research shows it can also be used to help treat acne and prevent ulcers.
But is manuka honey right for you? Registered dietitian Bailey Flora, RD, shares the benefits of manuka honey, as well as whether it’s worth your time.
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
It gets its antibacterial effects from an active ingredient called methylglyoxal (MGO).
MGO is created in manuka honey thanks to the conversion of another compound known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA). A high concentration of DHA is found in the nectar of manuka flowers. The higher the concentration of MGO, the stronger the antibacterial effects of manuka honey.
Manuka honey is considered a monofloral honey, made mostly from the nectar of one kind of flower. Traditional honey is typically polyfloral honey, where the nectar comes from a variety of different flowers.
“The antibacterial effects of manuka honey are a lot higher than other honey counterparts,” says Flora. “It’s about 100 times higher than other traditional honey.”
Benefits of manuka honey
Thanks to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, manuka honey can be used to help treat wounds, improve your oral health, soothe a sore throat and treat ulcers and acne.
Helps treat wounds
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of manuka honey for wound treatment.
Manuka honey’s antioxidant and antibacterial properties are key players in treating wounds. It’s also worth noting that manuka honey has a lower pH than most honey, which can help promote optimal wound healing.
“Manuka honey can help speed up the healing process,” says Flora. “It can also help prevent infections.”
Helps with oral health
There’s limited research on how manuka honey can help your oral health. But studies show it can protect against dental plaque buildup, which can prevent gingivitis (a gum disease).
In one study, research indicates that sucking on a manuka honey chew was more effective at reducing plaque and gingival bleeding than those who chew sugar-free gum.
Helps with sore throats
It’s not uncommon to put a little bit of honey in your tea if your throat is feeling sore or scratchy.
“Thanks to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties, manuka honey can offer relief from a sore throat,” says Flora. “Mix about two tablespoons of manuka honey with a warm glass of water or tea.”
The honey can help with inflammation and fight against the bacteria that cause pain. Research shows that those who use manuka honey have a decrease in Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria that causes sore throats.
Helps treat ulcers
Manuka honey may help with two kinds of ulcers: diabetes-related and gastric.
Diabetes-related ulcers, an open sore or wound that’s typically located on the bottom of your foot, affect about 15% of people with diabetes.
“There’s some research showing that using the manuka honey can help heal diabetes-related ulcers a little bit quicker when use with conventional treatment,” notes Flora.
Gastric ulcers, or sores that form on the lining of your stomach, can cause stomach pain, nausea and bloating.
“Research shows that manuka honey can increase gastric levels of certain enzymes that prevent against or protect against oxidative damage,” says Flora. “So it can reduce inflammation and help prevent gastric ulcers.”
Helps treat acne
You may have seen skincare products touting manuka honey as one of its ingredients. But does it actually work?
According to studies, it can hydrate skin, decrease inflammation and help keep skin bacteria-free.
“Manuka honey can be hydrating. And that’s from that fructose, glucose and some amino acids found in the honey,” explains Flora. “It has strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.”
Is manuka honey worth it?
If you want to give manuka honey a try, go for it, says Flora. But it can be a pricey ingredient. And you’ll want to be careful of how much you use.
“Manuka honey, like any other honey, is a simple sugar made up of fructose and glucose,” says Flora. “It’s best to limit the amount of simple and added sugars in your diet each day. Too much sugar can contribute to excess calories, which can increase your risk for weight gain, inflammation, liver disease, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.”
The American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than two teaspoons of added sugar per day, and for women, no more six teaspoons.
If you have diabetes, be cautious about the amount you’re using because its simple sugars can raise blood sugars quite quickly. And those who have a honey allergy should avoid using manuka honey altogether.
You can purchase manuka honey online and at most health food stores. Look for a rating, known as the Unique Manuka Factor or UMFTM. This rating indicates the concentration of MGO, DHA and leptosperin, a natural chemical found only in manuka honey.
So, how can you use manuka honey? Try applying manuka honey as a topical treatment over wounds or acne or put a few drops in your tea or on Greek yogurt.
However you use it, moderation is key.
“Manuka honey isn’t a cure-all,” notes Flora. “But it can be used alongside other kinds of conventional treatments.”