Honey has been used as a natural sweetener for thousands of years.
It is prominently featured in many cuisines from around the world. As often happens with food ingredients in various cultures, such as turmeric and garlic, they also serve as powerful medicinal agents for centuries. Honey is no exception in this regard, particularly manuka honey. What is manuka honey, what makes it so special, and what conditions does it treat?
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is specifically native to New Zealand, produced by introduced European honey bees that collect pollen from the mānuka or tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium).1 Its active ingredient, methylglyoxal, has a number of unique antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant benefits.2,4
In traditional medicine, wound dressings were covered with manuka honey before being applied, in order to shorten the healing time.2 Interest in manuka honey’s antibacterial and antiviral properties became renewed as treatment-resistant strains of bacteria and viruses became increasingly common, and the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved manuka honey for wound treatment in 2007.3
A 2013 study in an Indian medical journal suggested that dressings treated with manuka honey may be particularly good for encouraging faster healing of wounds, such as those from severe burns.4 It is thought that the particularly high sugar content of the manuka honey acts to prevent the growth of microbes in the burn wounds.
A 2014 study examined the use of manuka honey on wound dressings for treating diabetic ulcers, in conjunction with conventional treatments.5 Diabetic ulcers are rather unique in that they often take longer than other types of wounds to heal and are more likely to be antibiotic resistant. The researchers in this study found that the manuka honey-treated dressings provided not only an antibiotic effect, but also served as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, thereby speeding up the ulcer recovery time.5 Another study reached similar findings in terms of reduced healing times, when looking specifically at diabetic foot ulcers, which are among the most common types of ulcers for patients with diabetes.6
Incisions after surgery
A 2017 study looked at the effect of manuka honey on the healing of incisions following eyelid surgery.7 Fifty-five patients who had undergone eyelid surgery had petroleum jelly applied to both eyelids four times a day for six weeks, as well as manuka honey applied to one eyelid, twice daily.
One week following surgery, there was less distortion of the surrounding skin and the incision scar was less stiff. Furthermore, all patients subjectively reported better healing, with less pain, on the eyelid treated with manuka honey.7
While the benefits of manuka honey are quite clear, children under the age of 1, and anybody who is allergic to any type of honey, pollen, other bee products or bee stings, should not be treated with manuka honey. However, for those patients without such restrictions, manuka honey can be, quite literally, sweet on your patients who need fast, effective wound healing.
1. Manuka honey. Wikipedia. Accessed 5/22/2018.
2. Carter DA, Blair SE, Cokcetin NN, et al. (2016). Therapeutic manuka honey: No longer so alternative. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7, 569.
3. Premarketing notification: Wound dressing with manuka honey. US Food & Drug Administration. Accessed 5/22/2018.
4. Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A, Kazerouni O. (2013). Evidence for clinical use of honey in wound healing as an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory anti-oxidant and anti-viral agent: A review. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products, 8(3), 100-104.
5. Alam F, Islam MA, Gan SH, Khalil MI. (2014). Honey: A potential therapeutic agent for managing diabetic wounds. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2014, 169130.
6. Kamaratos AV, Tzirogiannis KN, Iraklianou SA, et al. (2014). Manuka honey-impregnated dressings in the treatment of neuropathic diabetic foot ulcers. International Wound Journal, 11(3):259-263.
7. Malhotra R, Ziahosseini K, Poitelea C, et al. (2017). Effect of manuka honey on eyelid wound healing: A randomized controlled trial. Ophthalmic Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, 33(4):268-272.