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Researching the health benefits of Manuka Honey

"One particular honey with extraordinary healing properties"

The biochemist Professor Peter Molan of the honey research unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand identified one particular type of honey with extraordinary healing qualities. Waikato-Uni-redHe was able to show that honey made from the flowers of the Manuka bush, a native of New Zealand, has antibacterial properties over and above those of other honeys.

Mystery Ingredient

He said: "In all honeys, there is - to different levels - hydrogen peroxide produced from an enzyme that bees add to the nectar. In Manuka honey, and its close relative which grows in Australia called Jellybush, there's something else besides the hydrogen peroxide. Peter-Molan-blueAnd nothing like that has ever been found anywhere else in the world."

That 'something else' has proved very hard to identify. Even now, after more than twenty years of research, Peter Molan admits he still has no idea exactly what it is. But he has given it a name: the 'Unique Manuka Factor', or 'UMF', and he has found a way to measure its antibacterial efficacy by comparing UMF® Manuka honey with a standard antiseptic (carbolic, or phenol) in its ability to fight bacteria. The results are astonishing.

He said: "We know it has a very broad spectrum of action; it works on bacteria, fungi and protozoa. We haven't found anything it doesn't work on among infectious organisms." "In fact," he says, "UMF Manuka honey can even tackle antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria" - a growing problem for hospitals around the world." "Staphylococcus aureas is the most common wound-infecting species of bacteria and that's the bacterium most sensitive to honey that we've found. That includes the antibiotic resistant strains such as MRSA which is just as sensitive to honey as any other staphylococcus aureas."

Clinical trials at the Waikato Hospital have shown that even out of the lab, UMF® Manuka honey has amazing healing properties.

Cancer Treatment

Cancer specialist Dr Glenys Round has also found honey to be an effective treatment. She said that they have been using honey to treat fungating wounds where the cancer has broken through the skin and that the results in that situation have been excellent. Most recently, she has had success in using honey dressings on patients with wounds or ulcers resulting from radiation therapy. She said, "Most of those patients in the past had tried various other conventional treatments without much success and that is the reason why, at least initially, honey was tried."

Julie Betts added that most patients seemed happy to try the honey treatment and that they didn't have a problem with it at all. She said, "Humans in general have a fondness, I think, for natural remedies, so people are quite happy to use them. I think the problem we encounter is when people don't understand how it works. They think that sourcing any honey will achieve the same outcome, and that's not always true."

Story from BBC NEWS: 2004/06/08 23:15:47 GMT© BBC 2012

There are Two Types of Manuka Honey

  • Ordinary Manuka Honey: contains hydrogen peroxide antibacterial properties like all other honeys
  • UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor) Manuka Honey: contains hydrogen peroxide plus its own natural antibacterial properties. This unique, additional activity gives it the special antibacterial healing potency.

UMF® is the registered trademark of the Active Manuka Honey Association (AMHA). The UMF rating is the number on the label. The higher the number, the greater the UMF test result and corresponding antimicrobial, therapeutic and healing qualities.

The minimum qualification for using the name UMF® and to be suitable for therapeutic use is a UMF® 10 rating.

There are 4 UMF® ratings to indicate the antibacterial potency of Manuka honey:

  • UMF® 0 to UMF® 4 - not detectable
  • UMF® 5 to UMF® 9 - maintenance level only (not recommended for therapeutic uses)
  • UMF® 10 to UMF® 15 - useful therapeutic levels endorsed by the Honey Research Unit at The University of Waikato
  • UMF® 16+ - superior strength with very high antibacterial levels

Rating the Antibacterial Activity of Manuka Honey

From a paper by Professor Peter Molan - Honey Research Unit, University of Waikato

The unique type of antibacterial activity that is present in Manuka honey, distinct from the antibacterial activity due to hydrogen peroxide that is common to all honeys, was discovered in research at the University of Waikato in 1982. This discovery was first published in an MSc thesis which is held in the university library (K.M. Russell, 1983, The antibacterial properties of honey), and subsequently in a journal (Molan, P.C. and Russell, K.M. 1988), Non-peroxide antibacterial activity in some New Zealand honeys, Journal of Apicultural Research 27, 62-67).

The variation that occurs in the level of this unique activity in Manuka honey was reported in a subsequent publication (Allen, K.L., Molan, P.C. and Reid, G.M., 1991, A survey of the antibacterial activity of some New Zealand honeys, Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 43, 817-822) where it was noted that:

"The present survey has shown not all samples said to be Manuka honey can be relied upon to provide this antibacterial activity."

It was from this came the term "Active Manuka Honey". The term was used in a fact sheet put out by the New Zealand Honey Food & Ingredient Advisory Service in 1998, which said:

"All of the patients in the trials who were taking the special active Manuka honey, as opposed to those patients taking ordinary inactive Manuka honey, had a marked improvement in their symptoms."

It also said:

"Research at the University of Waikato showed that some New Zealand Manuka honey (and it is important to emphasize "some", not all New Zealand Manuka honey) has a unique antibacterial activity. Laboratory trials showed that this Active Manuka honey is effective in killing Helicobacter pylori."

Because of increasing publicity about active manuka honey through news media reports on the research being carried out at the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato, the public demand for this special honey increased. But it also brought out people seeking to gain financially by "passing off" to the public so-called manuka honey which did not have the unique antibacterial activity.

In 1997 I was asked by TRADENZ (the predecessor to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) to help with the setting up of an Industry Group for the producers of the genuine active manuka honey, and to advise on how best the producers of the genuine active manuka honey, and consumers, could be protected from those selling manuka honey without the unique type of activity yet implying that it was the same thing.

Unfortunately the recommendations I made have not provided the answer to the problem. For instance, in the UK it is said that much of the manuka honey on sale does not have measurable levels of the non-peroxide antibacterial activity that is unique to manuka honey. Similarly there is honey on sale in New Zealand where the rating of activity on it is not a rating of the unique type of activity as measured by the assay described in Allen et al. (1991). There are also people selling manuka honey with the activity claimed to be the unique non-peroxide activity "assayed by the method developed by Dr. Molan" but there are beekeepers saying that different results from different laboratories are obtained for the same honey. There have also been many complaints that poor repeatability in results is seen when the same honey is sent repeatedly to the same laboratory.

Consequently there is a need for a method for assaying and certifying the unique non-peroxide antibacterial activity of manuka honey that is accurate, highly reliable, independent of competing companies, open to anyone meeting set standards, and in which consumers can have confidence."

Professor Peter Molan's paper later concluded:

"This certification by the University of Waikato is expected to be readily recognised as trustworthy by consumers because there has been so much exposure of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in the news media. I have been filmed in 19 TV documentaries on manuka honey, contributed information for seven others, filmed about manuka honey for 20 TV news programmes, interviewed for 14 radio news programmes, and have been interviewed in 38 other radio programmes. I have also been interviewed about manuka honey for 111 newspapers and 137 magazines, books and news websites. Most of these TV, radio and print media have been overseas.

Discussion with buyers for companies in the health food trade overseas has indicated ready acceptance of the certification system because of the reputation of the Honey Research Unit and the recognition of the expertise of this group in the measurement of the antibacterial activity of honey.

Because the new proprietary assay of activity will give the same results when run in any laboratory, it will be possible to license overseas laboratories to operate the service and thus allow the university to certify honey exported in bulk and packed overseas, as long as the requirement is met of assays being done on labelled retail packs. This will give beekeepers more options for marketing the honey they produce, and at the same time hopefully encourage reputable packing companies overseas to sell genuine Active Manuka Honey. The university will also make the proprietary assay available to regulatory authorities overseas so that they can easily check if manuka honey on sale in their countries genuinely does have the activity claimed."

Other Research Articles Available

1. Honey-Based Dressings and Wound Care: An Option for Care in the United States     Pieper, Barbara. Journal of Wound, Ostomy & Continence Nursing: January/February 2009 - Volume 36 - Issue 1 - p 60-66.
2. Jon Morgan (5 March 2009). "Money from honey - a family affair" Dominion Post
The factors responsible for the varying levels of UMF® in mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey Jonathan McD C Stephens. Doctorate thesis. 2006.
4. Julie Biuso, Sizzle: Sensational Barbecue Food, Monterey, Cal.: Julie Biuso Publications, 2008, p. 154
Crescent Dragonwagon, Passionate Vegetarian, New York: Workman Publishing Co., 2002, p. 958
6. Lusby, PE; Coombes, A, Wilkinson, JM (2002 Nov). "Honey: a potent agent for wound healing?". Journal of wound, ostomy, and continence nursing: official publication of The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society / WOCN 29 (6): 295-300. doi PMID
7. Jull, AB; Rodgers, A, Walker, N (2008 Oct 8). "Honey as a topical treatment for wounds.". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (4): CD005083. doi 18843679
8. Majtan, J; Klaudiny, J, Bohova, J, Kohutova, L, Dzurova, M, Sediva, M, Bartosova, M, Majtan, V (2012 Feb 17). "Methylglyoxal-induced modifications of significant honeybee proteinous components in manuka honey: Possible therapeutic implications.". Fitoterapia 83 (4): 671-7. doi PMID 22366273
9. Kilty, SJ; Duval, M, Chan, FT, Ferris, W, Slinger, R (2011 Sep-Oct). "Methylglyoxal: (active agent of manuka honey) in vitro activity against bacterial biofilms.". International forum of allergy & rhinology 1 (5): 348-50. doi PMID 22287464
10. Mavric, E; Wittmann, S, Barth, G, Henle, T (2008 Apr). "Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honeys from New Zealand.". Molecular nutrition & food research 52 (4): 483-9. doi PMID 18210383
11. Eekhof, JA; Van Wijk, B, Knuistingh Neven, A, van der Wouden, JC (2012 Apr 18). "Interventions for ingrowing toenails.".