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What Is Manuka Honey?

Unlike normal honey which is derived from honeybees feeding from the nectar and pollen of a variety of plants, Manuka honey is classified as a monofloral honey which means it is derived from bees only feeding from the nectar of the manuka tree. Like normal honey, manuka honey consists mostly of glucose, fructose, maltose, and sucrose; water; and other minor components including proteins, organic acids, amino acids, vitamins, flavonoids, and acetylcholine.

Where Does Manuka Honey Come From?

The manuka tree (also commonly referred to as ‘tea tree’) is a relatively common small tree or shrub found around New Zealand. The manuka tree is closely related to the Australian ‘tea tree’ (melaleuca), which is found predominantly in southeastern Australia. Both the manuka and tea tree are used to make manuka honey.

Benefits of Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is widely regarded as a type of medical-grade honey, which is most popular for it antibacterial activity. This antibacterial activity predominantly originates from a compond in manuka honey called methylglyoxal. Manuka honey has other characteristics that contribute to its antibacterial action, namely, hydrogen peroxide content, low pH and a high osmolarity, however, its MGO content is thought to be the primary factor. This is the reason that the amount of MGO is used as a criterion for the classification of manuka honey, namely the unique manuka factor (UMF).

While its antibacterial application for wound healing and dressing are its most studied application, there is also weak evidence implicating honey as an agent to help with hypoglycaemia, blood pressure, while also possessing significant antioxidant. In fact, there is emerging research exploring whether honey can be used as a therapy in the management of chronic diseases commonly associated with oxidative stress.

Manuka Honey Safety and Side Effects

The consumption of normal manuka honey is largely considered safe and without any adverse side effects, even when consumed in amounts of 20-30g per day. However, when it comes to honey in general, individuals need to exercise caution and diligence as to where they source their honey from. Mislabelling and adulteration of honey unfortunately have become a worldwide problem.  Adulteration is commonly done by water dilution and addition with sugar and syrups (e.g., corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup), while adulteration also includes bee feeding with sugars and syrup or artificial honey and deliberately mislabelling the floral or geographical origin.

There is also a rare phenomenon called ‘mad honey poisoning’, which stems from honey produced in settlement areas along the Black Sea coast in Turkey. A group of toxins called grayanotoxins occur in the leaves of many Rhododendron L. and Kalmia L. species, which grow in this region of Turkey. The toxins are responsible for the poisonous nature of the foliage of these plants. Bees take up the toxin with the plant’s nectar, which then enters the honey without being detoxified, and this leads to poisoning in those who eat the honey.

Manuka Honey Recommended Dosage

While there is little in the way of strict dosage recommendations when using manuka honey, typical serving size recommendations are between 10 to 20 grams depending on the UMF of the honey.

Manuka Honey Supplements

Manuka honey is widely available from different suppliers. Prices vary according to the UMF of the product. New Zealand is one of the largest producers of manuka honey and as such much of the commercially available product is manufactured in New Zealand.

Wang J, Li QX. Chemical composition, characterization, and differentiation of honey botanical and geographical origins. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2011;62:89-137.
Erejuwa OO, Sulaiman SA, Ab Wahab MS.Honey: A Novel Antioxidant. Molecules. 2012; 17:4400-4423.
Gunduz A, et al. Pseudocholinesterase levels are not decreased in grayanotoxin (mad honey) poisoning in most patients. J Emerg Med. 2012;43(6):1008-1013.p

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