The next time you dip your spoon into the sugar bowl, consider using honey instead. At 64 calories per tablespoon, honey is a source of simple carbohydrates and such essential vitamins and minerals as iron, protein, riboflavin, manganese and copper. But honey is more than a nutritional tool that never spoils. It’s a natural healer, too.
An ancient remedy for healing wounds, rashes and burns because of its natural antibacterial properties, honey was widely used to treat wounds until World War II. Although the mass production of penicillin and other antibiotics in the 1940s hindered its use for the next few decades, growing concerns about antibiotic resistance and the desire for natural remedies prompted a renewed interest in honey’s antimicrobial properties.
Thanks to the high sugar and low moisture content, gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide naturally found in the sticky sweetener, honey is not only effective in killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but it also reduces inflammation and edema (swelling caused by fluid retention in the body’s tissues) and stimulates the production of cells that can repair tissue damage. For these reasons, honey has been used to treat everything from sore throats and sinus infections to gastrointestinal problems to ophthalmic and dermatologic conditions. It also helps prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.
But not all honey is created equal.
Manuka honey, derived from the nectar of New Zealand’s manuka flower, contains higher concentrations of methylglyoxal, the compound that gives honey its antibacterial power. Research studies at the Waikato Honey Research Unit at Waikato University in New Zealand and at Sydney University in Australia show that this type of honey can be as or more effective in healing wounds and curing infections than antibiotics — and without side effects. Honey producers even developed a Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) scale to rate its potency. To be considered therapeutic, manuka honey should have a minimum rating of 10 UMF or higher, often labeled as “UMF” or “active” manuka honey.
Manuka honey has proven so beneficial that Britain’s National Health Service began licensing its use in wound dressings and sterilized medical-grade creams in 2004. And in 2010, the National Cancer Institute’s scientific steering committee approved a proposal to use manuka honey to reduce inflammation of the esophagus caused by chemotherapy.
Ask your health care provider how manuka honey can improve your health.