Manuka Honey Research

Organic Active Manuka Honey: The Sweet Healer

Bee Lore

Abuzz with excitement, the scout hurries into the metropolis of about 40,000 inhabitants she calls home. Although this vibrant community is commonplace to her, an outsider would notice in astonishment its geometrically beautiful architecture, the cleanliness of every residence and pathway, the sweet smelling air, and its perfectly controlled temperature year round. In this lovely city, the residents efficiently and steadfastly move about their daily work, each one bringing considered care and dedication to the task at hand. It is an intentional community, and every resident participates in sustaining one another's well-being. Some are engaged in nurturing and nourishing the young, others in maintenance and sanitation services, while many are working to create the products of the community that not only sustain the residents but enrich the lives of millions of others outside their little haven. Their combined activities form an exquisite, intricate web of interdependence.

The scout maneuvers herself into this hub of activity and broadcasts her urgent communiqué. Sinuously shimmying and gyrating in circles, first to the right and then to the left to complete a figure eight, she dances her announcement. "Food, Manuka food! I've found an abundant source." She continues her circular shimmies, interspersing them with straight runs toward or away from the sun. As the reverberations of her movements pulse through the community, residents stop and "listen", knowing that the location of this food is communicated in the precise orientation, direction, and twists and turns of her dance. "Over there, away from the sun to the big scrub oak, quarter circle turn to the stream, jog towards the morning sky until you reach the big stone, half circle towards the sun, and there you'll find them: dozens of blooming Manuka trees!" Excitedly, some of her family and neighbors hurry out to harvest the bounty while others remain behind to unload the sweet riches upon their friends' return. Utopia in the year 2500? Hardly. This community and those of its ancestors have been flourishing and supporting all of life for approximately 125 million years. Welcome to the world of the honeybee.

Unnoticed by many and feared by some, wondrous honeybees quietly go about the business of sustaining, directly or indirectly, most all of natural life. Approximately 80% of green growing things depend upon bees for pollination, a figure that translates into about one-third of all food we consume! This pivotal role in the orchestra of life is nothing short of astounding. Among all creatures, only the honeybee has vital work to complete every day. Her assignment is the overwhelming task of enhancing and enlivening everything she touches. How does she accomplish the duties upon which most of creation depends? She disregards the aerodynamic engineers who say it is impossible for her to fly; she builds adaptable, self-supporting and self-regulating communities; and she utilizes her amazing, state-of-the-art computer — the bee brain. We humans can only fantasize about replicating a tool that executes a phenomenal ten trillion operations per second. That represents a processing speed of 16 gigaflops, enabling her to perform the equivalent of 16 billion simple arithmetic equations each second!

The intricate synergy of all her skills and talents results in a timeless masterpiece — honey. While we casually enjoy it by the spoonful, honey's painstaking, laborious production requires a commitment and dedication largely unheard of among humans. Creating just one pound of honey represents the life work of 300 bees. To accomplish this, they will fly the combined equivalent of three to five times around the earth, visiting one to two million flowers in their travels! Each drop of nectar they collect is carefully transported back to the hive, where waiting bees will add enzymes and bits of pollen, before sealing it into individual cells within the comb that have been carefully sterilized with propolis. In these honeycomb cells, the nectar mixture ripens for five or more days before becoming the sweet, amber-colored gold that sustains the hive and nourishes our bodies while enchanting our senses.

Our foremothers and fathers understood the many remarkable healing gifts bees offer us. Since the beginning of recorded history, healers and physicians have prized the honey, royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis created by the honeybee. All of our great religious writings — the New Testament, Torah, Talmud, Koran, Book of Mormon, Hindu Veda, and ancient writings from Egypt, Greece, Rome and China — praise the restorative properties of honey and instruct people in its many uses. Throughout recorded human history, this unassuming little creature has connected us to the greater web of life, providing strength, health and sweetness to our daily existence — a splendid and rare combination. There is something profoundly exquisite about this connection between flower, bee and human. Raw honey is so vivifying precisely because it contains the live constituents added by the bee as well as the potent, seminal pollen she has gathered in her journeys. Every drop holds the spark of life. It is a luscious cycle of fertility and sweetness, and through the gift of her honey, we are reminded how much simple sweetness, both physical and metaphorical, contributes to our lives. Honey's healing gifts go far beyond mere nurture, though. This deeply satisfying food also offers substantial healing benefits.

For thousands of years, honey has been used in just about every culture for the healing of wounds, burns, rashes and ulcers of every kind. This consistent historical documentation led modern scientists of the last few decades to study the properties and therapeutic effects of honey. As is often the case, these studies confirmed the wisdom of historical remedies and uses when they revealed that honey contains numerous therapeutic compounds, including essential oils, flavonoids, terpenes and polyphenols. However, scientists also found that, overall, beneficial effects were inconsistent from one variety of honey to another. In the last decade, this information encouraged scientists to focus their attention on the differences among honeys. It was this comparative research that revealed the extraordinary superiority of one special honey — active 15+ Manuka honey, whose delicate aroma and irresistible flavor, reminiscent of butterscotch, complement its life-enhancing qualities.

It is not surprising that the characteristics and flavor of individual honeys are shaped by the kind of flower nectar gathered. Honey produced from the flowers of Manuka trees grown in New Zealand has long been celebrated for its unique healing properties. Why is it so special? All raw honeys contain varying levels of an enzyme that will create beneficial hydrogen peroxide when mixed with body fluids. Active Manuka honey, however, offers an additional antibacterial Manuka factor not found in any other honey, and it is this additional antibacterial component that is responsible for active Manuka honey's potent therapeutic properties. Of all honeys tested from over 25 different floral sources, only active Manuka honey possessed this valuable extra antibacterial component, and it is this extra component that accounts for the more than a 100-fold difference in antibacterial potency between active Manuka honey and regular honey. The Manuka antibacterial factor is so powerful that Manuka honey is now classified as a Therapeutic Good in Australia* (see box below).

* The equivalent to a drug registered and approved by the FDA.

Active Manuka Honey's Unique Characteristics

  • Only active Manuka honey provides non-hydrogen peroxide antibacterial components.
  • The Manuka antibacterial factor is unaffected by enzymes in the body that destroy hydrogen peroxide components.
  • The Manuka antibacterial factor is highly effective against antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."
  • The Manuka antibacterial component maintains its potency even when diluted over 50 times, as will happen when used on or in the body.
  • The Manuka antibacterial factor is unaffected by heat, light, or time.
  • The Manuka antibacterial factor may be used full strength and covered with a bandage. It does not require moisture or oxygen to be effective, as do other honeys.
  • Active Manuka's antibacterial factor diffuses more deeply into skin tissue than do the enzymes of other honeys.

Research Review

A quick review of the research illustrates the significance of this:

  • A study conducted in 1991 comparing a conventional burn treatment (silver sulfadiazine) with topical application of raw honey found that in seven days, 91% of the infected wounds treated with raw honey were free of infection, while in the sulfadiazine group less than 7% were free of infection. Moreover, within 15 days, 87% of the raw honey group was completely healed, whereas only 10% of the sulfadiazine patients experienced healing during those same 15 days. Additionally, the honey group experienced far less pain and irritation and no adverse side effects.
  • A study in 1988 found that various skin conditions, such as Fournier's gangrene, burns, topical ulcers, bed sores and diabetic ulcers, that were not responding to antibiotic treatment, responded well to the application of raw honey. Infected wounds were infection-free within seven days, and dead tissue was quickly replaced by new skin growth, thus preventing amputation.
  • Another study in 1996 involving 100 patients with partial thickness burns on less than 40% of their body found that among those treated with raw honey, 90% had infection-free wounds in seven days; 100% had healed within 15 days.
  • There have been over 35 reports in medical journals of raw honey's use clinically as a wound dressing in a total of over 600 patients. These clinical studies have demonstrated raw honey's effectiveness in halting infection, reducing inflammation and stimulating the regeneration of new tissue.
  • Researchers in Sanaa, Yemen, treated 50 patients with infected wounds following a cesarean section or hysterectomy. Twenty-six patients were treated with honey, and 24 were treated with an antiseptic solution of alcohol and iodine. The honey group was infection-free in six days, and 84% of the group had cleanly healed wounds. The antiseptic group was not free of infection until day 15, and only 50% of their wounds healed cleanly. Moreover, the honey treatment reduced the average postoperative scar width by nearly two-thirds, and the hospital stay by half.
  • A study has shown that raw active Manuka honey has sufficient antibacterial activity to halt the growth of Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria that causes sore throats. Active Manuka honey's anti-inflammatory action also helps relieve the associated pain.
  • In a clinical trial of 45 patients with dyspepsia, the subjects were given 30 ml of raw honey three times a day. After treatment, the number of patients with blood in their stools caused by peptic ulcers decreased from 37 to 4; the number of patients with dyspepsia decreased from 41 to 8; the number with gastritis or duodenitis, as viewed by endoscope, decreased from 24 to 15; and the number with duodenal ulcers decreased from 7 to 2. In another study on gastric ulcers, the healing rate from raw honey was 70%, measured as the number of honey-treated ulcers compared to the untreated control group.
  • A study in 1994 showed that the Manuka antibacterial factor in raw active Manuka honey completely halted the growth of Helicobacter pylori (the bacteria responsible for upper GI dyspepsia of stomach ulcers) at concentrations as low as 5%, but the hydrogen peroxide components in other honeys did not, even at concentrations as high as 50%.

Testing and Verification

All of these studies demonstrate that raw active Manuka honey, high in special antibacterial properties, provides numerous beneficial therapeutic effects. Its consistency creates a protective barrier that prevents infection from developing. It stimulates the growth of tissue by encouraging the development of blood capillaries, and the growth of cells that manufacture connective tissue and collagen. It is an anti-inflammatory and draws lymph from a wound to keep it clean. And finally, active Manuka honey rapidly clears infection and halts the growth of many bacteria including E. coli, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Helicobacter pylori. Added benefits are that it will not stick to wounds when bandages are removed, it is well tolerated, and it has no side effects. When we consider the recent medical news reports, the benefits of this safe, effective alternative become obvious. Reuters Health Information Service recently printed an article outlining the increasing health problem in the United States of hard-to-heal wounds. They estimate that 3.7 million people are presently at risk for these kinds of infections, and that number is expected to increase rapidly. Simultaneous to this is the very serious increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Interestingly, the very bacteria that are becoming resistant to antibiotics, such as Staphylococci, Pseudomonas, Streptococcus, E. coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae, are among those that scientific studies have determined are completely inhibited by active Manuka honey.

These extraordinary studies caught the attention of researchers at The Synergy Company in the United States, and they became committed to making the remarkable benefits of active Manuka honey available throughout the world. This was not as simple as it seemed, however. As often happens, The Synergy Company discovered that many manufacturers were exploiting the research to sell Manuka honey for therapeutic use that was not verified active Manuka honey. When using honey therapeutically, it is essential to remember that only Manuka honey contains additional active antibacterial factors and that not all Manuka honeys are active — this point cannot be emphasized enough! For this reason, Manuka honey intended for therapeutic use is tested at the University of Waikato to determine the level of active antibacterial components it contains. These components are then designated a rating/number, which is based on a comparison of honey to phenol (also known as carbolic). An active Manuka honey labeled as 15+, such as those used in the previously cited studies, provides the same antiseptic properties as a 15% phenol solution. While there are numerous brands of Manuka honey, only a very small percentage of them are tested and verified as active 15+ Manuka honey. When selecting Manuka honey for therapeutic use, it is of the utmost importance to select one that is labeled "Active" and that specifies the level of antibacterial activity. Because Manuka trees grow only in New Zealand and bloom just six weeks of the year, active Manuka honey of this kind is truly a coveted and rare elixir.

References:

Even more rare than active 15+ Manuka honey is raw, certified organic, active 15+ Manuka honey. Unfortunately, modern agriculture has introduced chemicals into the previously untainted environment of the hive. Not only are chemical residues carried in on the pollens and nectars that bees gather, but also chemicals and antibiotics are used by beekeepers to control mites and other bee diseases in the hive. In a 1993 study, Postmes, van den Bogaard and Hazen state that conventionally produced honey may contain residues of these chemicals and should be used with caution. Because the use of chemicals is so widespread in the United States, even on public lands, organic honey is very difficult to produce here. For this reason, it is fortunate that Manuka trees grow only in the pristine environment of New Zealand. An established nuclear-free zone, New Zealand has been much more judicious in its use of chemicals in agriculture and on public lands than has the United States. Consequently, organic honey is still a viable possibility there. In New Zealand, there are only a handful of certified organic beekeepers that have restored the art of beekeeping and interfere as little as possible in the synergistic relationship between flower and bee.

Organic honeybees are nourished and supported while they live their natural life cycle precisely as nature intended. They are not killed at the end of the season; they are not artificially inseminated, and they are not fed sugar water, as is common in most conventional beekeeping. Their hives are placed in remote, uncontaminated areas, where they follow their instinctive foraging habits and feast on wild Manuka blossoms. Just as their external environment is pure and uncontaminated, so is their internal environment. No chemicals or drugs are ever allowed or used in or near the hives, in the materials used to construct the hives, or at any point in the extraction and packaging process. The active Manuka honey is simply and gently extracted and poured, unheated and raw, into glass jars, thus preserving its vital live enzymatic constituents. Each batch of organic active Manuka honey is tested to verify that it is free of over 160 chemical residues and heat damage, thus ensuring its potency and purity.

While certified organic active Manuka honey is clearly important from an environmental or chemical contamination perspective, The Synergy Company learned it actually impacts the therapeutic effectiveness of the honey as well. In standard beekeeping and honey packaging, the honey is heated to levels that destroy the enzymes naturally present in raw, organic honey. By definition, organic honey may not be pasteurized or heated to temperatures higher than normal hive temperatures. This preserves the precious enzymatic activity that contributes to honey's healing effects. Considering the important therapeutic uses of active Manuka honey, The Synergy Company searched all over New Zealand and discovered there is only one Manuka honey that is both tested and verified active 15+, and certified organic.

Given what science has discovered about the remarkable properties of active Manuka honey, it is easy to understand our little honeybee scout's excitement at finding an abundance of the Manuka blooms. Knowing, as we do now, that this amazing creature is responsible for such an extraordinary healing substance, we share her delight in this precious and rare natural wonder.

Suggested Uses

Dr. Molan at the University of Waikato offers the following suggestions for usage of active 15+ Manuka honey. These suggestions are not medical advice. If you are experiencing a persistent health problem, please seek the assistance of a qualified health practitioner.

  • For internal use with ulcers and gastritis: Spread one tablespoon of honey on toast and eat one hour before meals and at bedtime.
  • For internal use with sore throats, cold and flu: Allow one teaspoon of honey to gently melt in mouth, slowly coating the throat, four times daily. Do not disturb the healing effect by eating or drinking anything for 30 minutes.
  • For external use: Typically, about 1½ tablespoons of active Manuka honey is used on a 4" x 4" dressing. It is generally more effective to spread the honey on the bandage.
  • Use waterproof tape around the edges of the dressing to stop honey from oozing.
  • Change dressing daily.
  • If there are abscesses, cavities and depressions, fill them with the active Manuka honey so that it is in contact with the surface of the wound.

References

Reviews and Reports:
Bergman A, Yanai J, Weiss J, Bell D, David MP. Acceleration of wound healing by topical application of honey: An animal model. American Journal of Surgery 1983;145:374-76.
Casey G, van Rij A. Manuka honey and leg ulcers. New Zealand Medical Journal 1997;216.
Efem SEE, Udoh KT, Iwara CI. The antimicrobial spectrum of honey and its clinical significance. Infection 1992;20(4):227-29.
Green AE. Wound healing properties of honey. British Journal of Surgery 1988;75(12):1278.
Greenwood D. Honey for superficial wounds and ulcers. Lancet 1993;341(8837):90-91.
McInerney RJF. Honey — a remedy rediscovered. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1990;83:127.
Molan PC. The role of honey in the management of wounds. Journal of Wound Care 1999;8(8):423-26.
Postmes T, van den Bogaard AE, Hazen M. Honey for wounds, ulcers and skin graft preservation. Lancet 1993;341(8847):756-57.
Reuters Health Information Service. Hard-to-heal wounds; an increasing problem in US. Reuters Health Information Service 2000, July 27, 2000.
Zumla A, Lulat A. Honey — a remedy rediscovered. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1989;82:384-85.

Clinical Trials and Experiments:
Ali ATMM, Chowdhury MNH, al-Humayyd MS. Inhibitory effect of natural honey on Heliobacter pylori. Journal of Drug Research 1987;17(1-2):103-6.
Bergman A, Yanai J, Weiss J, Bell D, David MP. Acceleration of wound healing by topical application of honey. American Journal of Surgery 1983;145:374-76.
Efem SEE. Recent advances in the management of Fournier's gangrene: Preliminary observation. Surgery 1993;113 920:200-204.
Hamdy MH, el-Bandy MA, Khakifa KI, Gad EM, Hassanein EM. The antimicrobial effect of honey in the management of septic wounds. Fourth International Conference on Apiculture in Tropical Climates, Cairo, International Bee Research Association, London. 1989;61-67.
Oryan A, Sharma VK, Singh HP, Prakash P, Singh SP. Effects of topical application of honey on cutaneous wound healing in rabbits. Journal of Veterinary Medicine 1998;Series A;45(3):181:88.
Segree WA, James O, Morris DEU, Haase DA. Effect of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus pyogenes on the rate of wound healing in mice. West Indian Medical Journal 1970;19:65-70.
al-Somai N, Coley KE, Molan PC, Hancock BM. Susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to the antibacterial activity of Manuka honey. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1994;87(1):9-12.
Subrahmanyam M. Topical application of honey in treatment of burns. British Journal of Surgery 1991;78 (4): 497-98.
Subrahmanyam M. Honey dressing versus amniotic membrane in the treatment of burns. Burns 1994;20(4)331-33.
Subrahmanyam M. A prospective randomized clinical and histological study of superficial burn wound healing with honey and silver sulfadiazine. Burns 1998;24 (2):157-61.
Suguna L, Chandrakasan G, Ramamoorthy U, Thomas K. Influence of honey on biochemical and biophysical parameters of wounds in rats. Journal of Biochemistry and Nutrition 1993;14: 91-99.
Suguna L, Chandrakasan G, Thomas Joseph K. Influence of honey on collagen metabolism during wound healing in rats. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 1992;13:7-12.
al-Waili NS, Saloom KY. Effects of topical honey on post-operative wound infections due to gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria following caesarean sections and hysterectomies. European Journal of Medical Research 1999;4:126-30.

Case Reports:
Efem SEE. Clinical observation on the wound healing properties of honey. Surgery 1988;75: 679-81.
Harris S. Honey for the treatment of superficial wounds: A case report and review. Primary Intention 1994;2(4):18-23.
Ndayisaba G, Bazira L, Habonimana E, Muteganya D. Clinical and bacteriological results in wound treated with honey. Journal of Orthopedic Surgery 1993;7(2):202-4.
Phuapradt W, Saropala N. Topical application of honey in treatment of abdominal wound disruption. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1992;32(4):381-84.
Wood B, Rademaker M, Molan PC. Manuka honey, a low cost leg ulcer dressing. New Zealand Medical Journal 1997;110:107.

Publications from the University of Waikato Honey Research Unit:
Allen KL, Molan PC, Reid GM. A survey of the antibacterial activity of some New Zealand honeys. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 1991;43(12):817-22.
Bang LM, Molan PC. The effect of dilution on the rate of production of hydrogen peroxide in honey. Publication pending; available from the University of Waikato Library.
Brady NF, Molan PC, Harfoot CG. Sensitivity of dermatophytes to the antimicrobial of Manuka honey and other honey. Pharmaceutical Sciences 1997; 2:1-3.
Cooper RA, Molan PC, Harding KG. Antibacterial activity of honey against strains of Staphylococcus aureus from infected wounds. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1999;92:283-85.
Molan PC, Mizrahi A, Lensky Y. Honey as an antimicrobial agent. Bee Products: Properties, Applications and Apitherapy, 27-37. New York: Plenum Press, 1997.
Molan PC. The antibacterial activity of honey 1. Bee World 1992;73(1):5-28.
Molan PC. The antibacterial activity of honey 2. Bee World 1992;73(2):59-76.
Willix DJ, Molan PC, Harfoot CJ. A comparison of the sensitivity of wound infecting species of bacteria to the antibacterial activity of Manuka honey and other honey. Journal of Applied Bacteriology 1992;73:388-94.

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