What are the health benefits and uses of manuka honey?

In the quest to feel healthy and add years to our lives, many of us try to incorporate plenty of superfoods into our diet. While there isn’t an official definition for the term ‘superfood’, it essentially just refers to a food that’s especially high in nutrients. 

While superfoods are mostly plants, there are a few exceptions – most notably manuka honey, which is often referred to as the ‘ultimate superfood’. But why exactly is manuka honey so good for us? What are its benefits? And what are some of the different ways that we can use it?

Here’s everything you need to know about manuka honey.

What is manuka honey?

Manuka honey is a dark honey that’s native to New Zealand. It’s made by bees who pollinate the leptospermum scoparium flower – otherwise known as the manuka bush – and it’s been used by the Maori communities for hundreds of years. Though honey has been used around the world for its health and beauty benefits, manuka honey contains active compounds which give it antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This is what sets it apart from other types of honey.

According to experts, not all manuka honey is created equal, and if you want to buy good quality manuka honey, you should look for the UMF trademark. UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor, a quality trademark that shows you’re buying genuine manuka honey from registered and licensed beekeepers and producers. UMF ratings are often 10+ or 25+, and this relates to the level of unique signature compounds that are found in that honey.

Another rating you might see on manuka products is MGO, which refers to methylglyoxal, the magic antibacterial and antimicrobial ingredient in manuka honey. The higher the MGO or UMF, the more pure and potent the product is – and the more expensive. Manuka honey can be pricey, but you can still get some decent quality products for less than £10. Just be mindful that to be classified as ‘real’ manuka honey, you need to choose a product that’s at least 5+ UMF, or 83+ MGO, and some brands deliberately use vague labelling to confuse customers, so do look into this before you buy. Studies show that manuka honey provides health benefits when it has ratings of 10+ UMF and above, which is 263 MGO.

What are the benefits of manuka honey?

Manuka honey is thought to have many varied health and beauty benefits. It has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and is used for healing wounds, soothing sore throats and preventing tooth decay. Let’s take a closer look at some of the scientifically proven health benefits of manuka honey.

1. Manuka honey can aid wound healing

Honey has been used to treat wounds, burns and sores for millennia – but only manuka honey has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration  as an option of wound treatment. Multiple studies show that manuka honey can improve wound healing, boost the renewal of tissue, and even decrease pain in patients suffering from burns. One study found that when manuka honey was applied to people with non-healing wounds, 88% of the wounds decreased in size.

Other evidence suggests that manuka honey can help heal diabetic ulcers. One study found that manuka honey dressings reduced healing time in patients sufffering from diabetic ulcers, and another study found that manuka honey dressings cured diabetic ulcers more effectively than conventional treatment.

2. Manuka honey can soothe a sore throat

Honey and lemon is an age-old remedy for a sore throat, and manuka honey’s antiviral and antibacterial properties mean it’s especially beneficial when it comes to soothing sore throats. It can reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria that’s causing pain, and it also protects and soothes the inner lining of the throat.

Studies show that manuka honey can decrease levels of streptococcus mutans – a type of bacteria that’s responsible for sore throats – in people undergoing chemotherapy. Plus, it also decreases the harmful strain of bacteria that causes inflammation and ulcerations in the oesophagus and digestive tract. If that weren’t enough reason to reach for the manuka honey when you’re under the weather, it’s also been proven to help suppress coughs.

3. Manuka honey can support digestive health

Research shows that regularly consuming manuka honey can help alleviate some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is one of the most common digestive disorders. Studies show it can help decrease symptoms like constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel movements. There’s also evidence that manuka honey can help treat other gut infections like clostridium difficile,  which causes severe diarrhoea and bowel inflammation, and is linked to conditions like colitis.

4. Manuka honey can promote oral health

To keep our teeth, mouth and gums healthy, it’s important to limit bad oral bacteria that can cause plaque to form – however, we also don’t want to kill the good bacteria that helps promote oral health. Research shows that manuka honey kills some of the harmful bacteria that’s linked to plaque formation, gum inflammation and tooth decay, like porphyromonas gingivalis and aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.

While the idea of sucking sweets to improve oral health may seem counterintuitive, studies show that consuming honey sweets made from manuka honey can reduce plaque and gingivitis. Because honey doesn’t contain refined sugar and contains powerful antibacterial effects, it’s unlikely to cause tooth decay, and can be more effective than chewing sugar-free gum in reducing plaque and gingival bleeding.

5. Manuka honey can improve skin

While manuka honey can work its magic inside our bodies, it can also provide powerful benefits for the skin, and it’s used to treat a variety of skin conditions as well as acne. Acne is generally caused by hormonal changes, but it can also be caused by bacteria growing in blocked pores, and manuka honey’s antimicrobial properties are believed to help fight acne.

Plus, because manuka honey also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, it can alleviate inflammation caused by acne – and one study showed that manuka honey was just as effective as antibacterial soap at improving acne.

Skincare professionals also believe that manuka honey is a natural moisturiser, and because it absorbs moisture directly from the air and draws it into the skin, it can be very effective in improving skin hydration. It’s also used to treat skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dry skin and rosacea, although more research is needed. It’s moisturising properties are said to work just as well on hair as on skin, too.

To find out more about the health benefits of manuka honey, have a watch of the video below.

How much manuka honey should you consume?

So how much manuka honey should you consume to reap its benefits? Experts agree that between one to two tablespoons a day, or a maximum of 15 grams, is ideal. While manuka honey contains plenty of health-boosting properties, it’s still a sugar, so should be eaten in moderation. Anyone who needs to be careful of their blood sugar, like people with diabetes, should be mindful of how much honey they’re consuming.

Manuka honey should be avoided if you’re allergic to bees, and the NHS also advises that children under the age of one shouldn’t be given any form of honey. This is because there’s a chance that it may contain a bacteria that can cause serious illness in babies. You can buy manuka honey from health food shops and most supermarkets, although Manuka Doctor has an especially good range of high quality manuka honey, as does Amazon.

It’s worth noting that Manuka Doctor are giving Rest Less members 70% off their New Zealand honey until 30th June 2021. You can get a large 500g jar of 40 MGO strength manuka for £15, down from £50. To take advantage of this offer, simply visit their website by following this link here.

The easiest way to consume manuka honey is to simply eat a spoonful of it, but this can be quite intense – so let’s look at some other ways we can consume or use manuka honey…

6 ways to use manuka honey

1. Incorporate manuka honey into your breakfast

If you don’t fancy eating a pure spoonful of rich honey, the easiest way to make sure you’re regularly consuming manuka honey is to include it in your breakfast each day. You could try spreading it on toast, or drizzling it over porridge, yoghurt or cereal. If you enjoy making smoothies, adding a spoonful of manuka honey can act as a healthy sweetener. For more inspiration, have a read of Foodies 100’s breakfast recipes that use manuka honey.

2. Swirl manuka honey into a hot drink

If you like to add sugar to your tea, then why not try swapping it for manuka honey? Not only will this make your tea just as sweet, it’ll also be much better for your teeth. Alternatively, you could mix it with herbal teas, or make a hot lemon and honey drink. While these are good to drink when you have a sore throat, they’re also great for everyday, too. For more ideas on healthy hot drinks you can add manuka honey to, you might want to check out the winter warmer section of our article on nutrition.

3. Make a manuka honey face mask

You can make a facial mask simply by applying manuka honey directly onto your face, but mixing it with other ingredients like coconut oil or avocado can act as a more intensive moisturiser. Alternatively, you could mix manuka honey with olive oil and brown sugar and make your own exfoliating face mask: the olive oil softens your skin, the sugar exfoliates, and the honey soothes. Check out this article by Marie Claire to find out more about making manuka honey face masks.

4. Apply manuka honey to your hair

Because manuka honey is so good at attracting and retaining moisture, it also makes an effective hair mask, and can nourish and smooth dull, brittle hair. Simply mix manuka honey with coconut oil, leave on for 20-30 minutes, and then wash off. For more information on making a manuka honey hair mask (as well as a honey hand soak), have a read of this article by Well Insiders.

5. Cook with manuka honey

Aside from adding manuka honey to your tea, toast or cereal, there are plenty of other ways you can eat more of this superfood. If you enjoy baking, you can swap sugar for honey in your recipes: simply switch sugar for half the amount of honey. Because cooking honey at high temperatures may destroy the natural enzymes, you should also reduce the oven temperature by 15C. Check out these manuka honey recipes for some inspiration. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, why not try making this manuka honey and sriracha stir fry sauce?

6. Suck manuka honey sweets

If you have a sweet tooth and enjoy eating boiled sweets, you might want to buy some manuka honey lozenges to suck on. These are great if you have a sore throat, but they’re also just delicious if you fancy a sweet treat. Manuka  Doctor sells manuka honey nuggets which are very popular – and these also come in lemon and honey flavour. Amazon also sells a wide range of manuka honey sweets, drops and lozenges.

Final thoughts...

Thanks to its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, manuka honey is totally unique. It has powerful and proven benefits for healing wounds, and can also be effective at treating other conditions, from a sore throat to IBS. It’s also beneficial for the skin and hair – and has the added benefit of being absolutely delicious.

There are many ways to include more manuka honey in your diet, whether you decide to add it to tea, toast or bake with it – or even create your own DIY beauty products. To get the most out of your manuka honey, just be sure to buy a good quality product with a UMF or MGO rating.

Do you try to consume manuka honey – or are you interested in making your own honey beauty treatments? We’d love to hear about your manuka experiences. Leave us a comment below or join the conversation over on the community forum.

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