Healing benefits of manuka honey

Research on horse leg wounds by our very own equine surgical specialist, Professor Andrew Dart, has demonstrated the amazing healing benefits of manuka honey with a high UMF (unique manuka factor).

Read the full story – Researchers show just how effective manuka honey is in healing wounds – published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 2017

What manuka honey should I use?
Professor Andrew Dart

Our studies have consistently shown UMF 20 manuka honey enhances healing of open wounds in horses. Further even if this honey is diluted down to a 66% manuka honey and 34% water based gel to make a more user friendly ointment, it is equally effective. It is likely based on the body of work out in the scientific literature that this effect is likely to be true in humans and other animals. It is important to note that manuka honey is the only honey that is graded for its ability to kill bacteria (this is the UMF grade). Not all manuka honey has been graded so it is important to look for this on the label. UMF grades up to 9 really have no antibacterial activity, UMF 10 -15 have broad antibacterial activity but as grades increase above 16,the activity is superior particularly against many of the antibiotic resistant “super” bacteria.

Our studies show that the antibacterial activity is one of the most important factors contributing to manuka honeys effects on wounds so you can be sure in buying manuka honey the UMF is a quality control so you get what you are paying for. However all honeys have other factors we are not aware of (bioactive factors) and are not graded. It would appear the spectrum of bioactive factors varies from honey to honey depending on the plant source.

Our most recent study has shown that generic honey bought from a supermarket shelf was not as effective and was no better than treating the wound with saline. The antibacterial agents in most honeys is hydrogen peroxide. It is produced from the sugar in the honey by an enzyme called glucose oxidase. With long periods of storage glucose oxidase ins inactive. Further many honeys destined for the food market are heat treated to help get did of contaminants and make the honey more stable and runny so it is easier to use. Heat inactivates glucose oxidase and is likely to damage some of the other bioactive components of honey. So storage and heat treatment destroy many of the good properties of honey. Manuka honey has no appreciable peroxide activity. It’s antibacterial activity comes from methylglyoxal (MGO). MGO is very stable and increases in concentration with storage so provides a more reliable antibacterial activity.

So if using honey for its antibacterial activity then going for a manuka honey with a UMF above 16 is sensible. However this is not inexpensive. When using it a thin film applied a few times a day or under a dressing is all that is needed. We also know that manuka honey of any grade also has a bioactive factor that directly enhances the cells responsible for wound healing so a cheaper low UMF grade or even generic ungraded manuka honey may help healing of wounds that are otherwise clean. Other honeys have beneficial bioactive factors so buying fresh honey from a bee keeper or market where the honey has not been heat treated or stored for long periods of time may be more cost effective and have some benefit in otherwise clean wounds.

Honey, particularly fresh honey has good nutritional value irrespective of its source. However there are a lot of products being marketed and many health benefits proposed that are not established and products that use ungraded or low grade manuka honey or honey mixes. These are often not inexpensive so it is important that you read carefully what you are buying.

Published: 15 September 2017