Honey is more than just a natural sweetener. Historically, 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 dependent on the nutritional composition of the honey consumed. It is well known for its wound healing properties and as a gastro-intestinal remedy since ancient times.
Several types of honey are available, each with a distinct taste and properties.
The broad spectrum anti-bacterial activity of honey is attributed to various factors including its high sugar concentration (80 per cent sugar) and hydrogen peroxide.
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, diarrhea, ulcers and 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), which gives it an antibacterial quality.
Manuka honey has a long history for safe use. Allergic responses to honey are relatively uncommon and have been attributed mainly to the presence of components of bee origin in the products.
Most honeys can be used for food preservation and preventing food spoilage due to their antibacterial properties. However, heating may lower this effect. Interestingly, manuka honey retains its antibacterial properties even on heating.
These days, with abundant use of antibiotics resulting in widespread resistance, alternative anti-microbial strategies are urgently needed. Honey, specially manuka honey have attracted considerable attention. Manuka honey has been used successfully in treatment of infections against multi-antibiotic resistant micro-organisms, which may make its use promising in the future.
The unique antibacterial activity of Manuka honey sets it apart as one of nature’s wonder foods. More research is needed to identify the bioactive components responsible for its benefits and their health implications.
Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of http://www.theweightmonitor.com and Whole Foods India