Honey is more than just a natural sweetener; it is known to have medicinal properties. In general, most honeys possess anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and prebiotic properties. Other benefits that have been attributed to honey include anti-tumour, anti-mutagenic and anti-viral properties depending on the nutritional composition of the honey consumed. It is well known for its wound healing properties and as a gastro-intestinal remedy. Several types of honeys are available, each with distinct properties.
The broad spectrum of anti-bacterial activity of honey is attributed to various factors including its high sugar concentration (80 per cent sugar) and hydrogen peroxide. Non-peroxide factors include methylglyoxal (MGO), and its low pH value. Hydrogen peroxide and its high osmolarity because of high sugar concentration are the well-characterised anti-bacterial factors.
Certain honeys from specific plants are more effective than others. Manuka honey that comes from New Zealand Manuka bush is one such example. It has been found to be an effective therapy for digestive complaints ranging from acid reflux, gastritis, diarrhoea, ulcers, H.pylori to fungal infections. It has been used in upper respiratory infections including chronic sinusitis, rhinitis and allergic symptoms.
All honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, which imbues them with antibiotic properties. But manuka honey exhibits antibacterial activity which is not attributed to hydrogen peroxide. It contains an exceptionally high concentration of a non-peroxide anti-bacterial compound methylglyoxal (MGO). Methylglyoxal (MGO), offers enhanced and unique antibacterial to it.
While, manuka honey also has hydrogen peroxide, polyphenols and other beneficial components, the presence of unique non-peroxide activity gives it the Unique Manuka honey Factor (UMFw). It is measured by a standard called phenol standard. For instance, UMF®5 manuka honey has the same antibacterial activity as a 5 per cent phenol solution. Manuka honey is sold with its UMF rating; the higher the UMFw factor, the greater the antibacterial potency.
How does it work? It is proposed that UMF exhibits a prebiotic effect and stimulates the growth of good bacteria (probiotics). This good bacterial growth out-competes disease-causing strains in addition to direct antibacterial effects against disease causing bacteria. This may be beneficial not only in terms of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota, but may provide some protection against the development of allergies. This may be the reason that manuka honey has also been found to reduce unhealthy bacteria in the mouth in dental plaque.
Most honeys can be used for food preservation, however, heating may lower this effect. Interestingly, manuka honey retains its antibacterial properties even on heating.
The safe honey Comes from New Zealand Manuka bush
Digestive complaints — acid reflux, gastritis, diarrhoea, ulcers, H.pylori
Respiratory infections — chronic sinusitis, rhinitis and allergic symptoms
Unhealthy bacteria in dental plaque
Antibiotic properties, that do come from hydrogen peroxide
High concentration of a non-peroxide anti-bacterial compound methylglyoxal (MGO)
Unique Manuka honey Factor (UMFw) rating — the higher the UMFw factor, the greater the antibacterial potency
UMF exhibits prebiotic effect and stimulates growth of probiotics
Retains its antibacterial properties even on heating
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”