Manuka Honey's Medicinal Benefits

The New Zealand honey is quickly becoming the hottest holistic medicine product on the market, treating gastrointestinal, dermal and other conditions.

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 Wedderspoon Organic’s Fiona Nelson (right) applies a manuka-honey cream to the face of Wedderspoon co-owner Alison Marcelli. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)
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When Fiona Nelson has a bout of acid reflux, gets a pesky scrape or wants a bit of a beauty pick-me-up, she reaches for the same little jar of manuka honey. She and many others are convinced that it holds one of holistic medicine’s best-kept secrets—and that it won’t remain under the radar for long.

Little known domestically but highly touted abroad for its theriac qualities, manuka honey is an antimicrobial agent that’s potentially useful in treating a wide range of conditions, from digestive issues to arthritis to skin disorders. As the founder of the U.S. branch of the U.K.-based Wedderspoon Organic, Nelson became convinced of the honey’s healing powers while living in her native England. But she’s found that her pitch has been a little harder to make on our side of the pond.

“When we first started importing this product, we had to go around to all the stores in the area and explain what it was. No one had ever heard of it,” says Nelson. “In this country, people have been brain-washed into popping a pill when they’re sick, rather than using a natural remedy.”

Manuka honey is applied to wounds in U.K. hospitals—much like Neosporin or any other topical antibacterial. Domestically, Derma Sciences’ Medihoney bandages provide a similar treatment. Even so, few clinical trials have led to any conclusive evidence in regards to manuka honey’s effectiveness, and Nelson can’t make any FDA-approved health claims.

Nonetheless, hydrogen peroxide is a component of honey, and some types have other antibacterial qualities. Manuka honey has methylglyoxal, derived from the conversion of dihydroxyacetone, found in the nectar of flowers. The higher the concentration of methylglyoxal, the stronger the antibiotic effect. Studies also show that the flavonoids in manuka demonstrate various anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticancer properties in vitro. The honey also has increased antioxidant activity in animal studies.

“We have many medical doctors suggesting to patients that they can use this product for homeopathic purposes, especially plastic surgeons,” says Nelson.

Dr. Rebecca Witham uses manuka honey in her office and at home. “It has a high sugar content, which dehydrates the bacteria,” says Whitham, who’s the medical director at Paoli Hospital’s Wound Healing Center.

Certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be treated with manuka honey, and Witham finds it effective in reducing wound edema and eliminating dead tissue. “If a dermatologist has to burn something off, the manuka honey softens and removes the tissue—and it will heal faster, too,” she says.

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