Manuka Honey: Superfood or Snake Oil

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-18 23:31

Manuka honey has been touted to be a superfood that can be used to treat several conditions, but what exactly can--and can’t--manuka honey do?



A superfood is a type of food that’s thought to be so nutritious that it’s definitely beneficial to your health and it can help you live a longer life. Some examples of superfoods are blueberries, kale, and acai, which have risen in popularity in recent years. However, scientists and nutritionists have a bone to pick with these so-called superfoods.


For one thing, superfoods aren’t actually in a food group that describes and standardizes whatever it is that makes them “super”. The term “superfoods”, according to dietician Despina Hyde, may actually just be a marketing tool to refer to nutritious foods that have significant health benefits.


Manuka honey in particular can apparently treat allergies, colds, infections, and can even apparently improve the quality of your sleep and hair. However, are all these claims true?

Antimicrobial Properties

A superfood to defeat a superbug?



There’s another “super” that we need to look at--”superbugs”. Superbugs are bacteria strains that have grown immune to many of the antibiotics we have today. Thus, medical professionals have been looking for alternative ways to combat these superbugs without relying on now-ineffective antibiotics.


Thus the renewed interest in honey. There have been traditional uses for honey as part of wound dressing, which makes sense given honey’s high sugar content and low pH. These qualities inhibit the growth of microbes, and some types of honey can keep their antimicrobial properties even when thoroughly diluted.


Manuka honey, which is taken from manuka trees, has potent antimicrobial properties. This particular characteristic of this particular type of honey was discovered in 1987, when Professor Peter Molan removed the honey’s hydrogen peroxide and found that the honey still managed to retain its antimicrobial action. Laboratory research later on confirmed that the organic compound methylglyoxal (MGO) is the key active ingredient in manuka honey. MGO itself has known antimicrobial properties.


Tests have shown that manuka honey can indeed inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, including superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. The honey has also been found to be able to kill bacteria that cause strep throat and Golden staph infections.


What do people commonly buy manuka honey for?



Of course, manuka honey isn’t primarily used for dressing wounds and killing bacteria. Most of the manuka honey used around the world is used for eating. However, the consumed honey loses its antimicrobial properties once it goes through human digestion. Nonetheless, even though consumed honey can’t kill bacteria, it can promote the growth of good gut bacteria. Then again, other kinds of honey, not just manuka, have this same property.


However, one thing that manuka honey can’t do is treat hay fever, though there have been claims that it can. There also isn’t enough evidence to support claims that manuka honey can lower cholesterol, improve sleep, and help treat diabetes. There are also claims that manuka honey can “detox” people who consume it, but nutritionists say that “detox” claims in general are ridiculous.


In conclusion, manuka honey is great for dressing wounds and promoting good gut bacteria. However, most other claims about it don’t have enough evidence to support them.

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