From bedsores to seasonal sore throats: Are Manuka honey’s healing properties the real deal?

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published November 10, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Manuka honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties which can be used to treat wounds, sore throats, ulcers, and acne, as well as improve oral health, according to research.

  • Researchers say that the multimodal actions manuka honey is known for can dissolve biofilms in ways that antibiotics fail to, making the honey void of bacterial resistance.

  • The Māori, a people indigenous to New Zealand, were the first to discover and use manuka honey. They refer to this substance as Taonga, which translates to “treasure,” experts say.

Research on manuka honey, already FDA-approved as a wound treatment in the USA, is ongoing as consumers are beginning to see multiple over-the-counter manuka honey-based pharmaceuticals on store shelves. These products are advertised to alleviate cold and flu symptoms—right in time for the colder season—and ease oral health issues, treat wounds, and more.

Physicians may hear questions about these products from patients, and may also want to consider recommending a few. But how does this substance actually help to alleviate a wide range of symptoms? Does the science behind manuka honey live up to the hype?

History and known benefits

Native to certain parts of Australia and New Zealand, manuka honey has been used by the Indigenous group known as the Māori for centuries. Taonga, meaning “treasure,” is the term that native New Zealanders use to refer to manuka honey in honor of its healing properties.[]

Manuka honey differs from other types of honey as it is monofloral, meaning it’s derived from one type of flower—in this case, the manuka.

The flower's nectar has higher concentrations of dihydroxyacetone. This converts to methylglyoxal, which creates stronger antibacterial properties than those found in other types of honey.

The honey can be used to help alleviate symptoms associated with a wide range of conditions—it's touted to improve oral hygiene by reducing plaque and preventing gingivitis, and soothe sore throats, acne, and ulcers, for example.

This monofloral substance is also approved by the FDA for treating wounds. Its antioxidant and antibacterial properties help speed up the healing process and prevent infections, as well as encourage tissue regeneration.[]

Helping to heal bedsores

To better understand the health value of manuka honey, MDLinx spoke with Gavin Gear, co-founder of ManukaGuard, a manufacturer of manuka honey products.

Gear discussed the honey’s healing power on bedsores as one example of its medicinal effects.

“A simple way to address a bedsore is that it’s a wound, and it’s not getting worse, it’s not getting infected, and it’s not healing,” he said. “It’s stuck in an anti-inflammatory cycle. What’s missing is angiogenesis [the growth of new vessels and tissue].”

"You put manuka honey in a wound, and within 3 days, you’re going to see new tissue, including blood vessels. It’ll heal that bedsore. And it’s not magic. It’s just what manuka honey does."

Gavin Gear, ManukaGuard

Related: 7 foods with antibacterial properties

Beating the biofilms

Another unique aspect of manuka honey is how it interacts with biofilms in the human body.

According to an article published by AIMS Microbiology, researchers have had success combining manuka honey with antibiotics to treat chronic infections caused by biofilms.[]

The researchers wrote that the joint treatment of honey from the manuka species Leptospermum and the antibiotic known as rifampicin was most effective in fighting staphylococcal biofilms in patients.

Antibiotics, on the other hand, may be a much less effective treatment when used alone. The research therefore points to the possibility that manuka honey may play a central role in treating infections that are usually antibiotic-resistant.

“We have multiple modes of action that manuka honey is well-known for," Gear commented. We know how manuka honey will attack bacteria. And this is why bacteria can't develop resistance. Meanwhile, [there are times when antibiotics] can't even get through biofilms to the bacteria,” Gear said.

What this means for you

Manuka honey, which is packed with amino acids, B-vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and zinc, has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. While it may not be a silver bullet, it may help treat wounds, GI symptoms, and sore throats, as well as improve oral hygiene. Note that manuka honey also has unique antibacterial properties.

Read Next: 5 foods as good as medicine
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