Honey is a sweet substance that is produced by bees using plant nectar. Bees forage for nectar from flowers, collect it and carry it back to their hives. When the bee collects nectar from flowers, it stores the substance temporarily in its crop, the equivalent of a stomach. There, digestive enzymes act upon the nectar. The bees then regurgitate and deposit this processed nectar into the cells in their hives. This is how honey is produced. It provides bees with a source of nutrition during times of scarcity. Honey is harvested from beehives in a number of ways. Apiculture is a specialized industry that produces honey on a commercial scale.
Honey is often preferred as a substitute for sugar or artificial sweeteners. Apart from its nutritional benefits, it also has proven therapeutic value.
Honey As Alternative Medicine
The qualities of honey – such as its taste, aroma, color, and texture – can vary depending on the source of the nectar and various other factors. Hence, its therapeutic properties and potency can also vary. As a rule, however, most forms of honey offer certain benefits.
For one, honey does not encourage bacterial growth. Hence, it keeps well without spoiling for centuries. It also has natural antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Recognising this, various traditional systems of medicine have advocated its use for treatment of wounds, burns and beauty treatments. Some people even believe that certain kinds of honey, such as manuka honey, can be used to treat ailments such as cancer.
What Is Manuka Honey And How Is It Made?
Manuka honey is a specific type of honey produced by honey bees that collect nectar from the flowers of the Manuka plant (Leptospermum scoparium). It is mainly produced in New Zealand where the manuka plant grows naturally, particularly in the East Cape region. This is a monofloral honey which means that it is produced from the nectar of a single variety of flowers. In actual fact, for a certain brand of manuka honey to be certified as authentic, it must contain at least 70% of nectar sourced from manuka flowers.
This honey contains certain compounds which confer the ability to aid in wound healing by fighting inflammation and bacterial infection. Hence, it is promoted as a form of alternative medicine.
What Are The Properties Of Manuka Honey And What Are Its Benefits?
Manuka honey has a strong, distinctive flavor. It is also highly viscous and dark in color. The antimicrobial potency of the honey varies from one batch to the next. The honey is assigned a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) grade on a scale of between 0 and 30 as an indicator of this antimicrobial potency. A grade of 10 indicates that the honey is comparable to 10% concentration of phenol in terms of antibacterial quality.
The list below mentions some proven benefits that have been validated by scientific research:
- Nutritional value. Manuka honey is considered a superfood because it delivers healthy doses of amino acids, enzymes, sugars, minerals and vitamins.
- Antibacterial action: Like honey from other sources, manuka honey contains hydrogen peroxide. This confers an antibacterial quality. However, manuka honey also contains some additional ingredients that boost its ability to fight bacterial growth. These include methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone. MG is present is most kinds of honey but manuka honey contains a higher concentration of it. Dihydroxyacetone, a precursor of MG, is present in this honey because it is present in the manuka plant itself. It also contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that confers the ability to fight bacterial growth. Manuka honey is proven to help fight Staphylococcal and Streptococcal growth. Recognising the confirmed antimicrobial properties of the honey, some manufacturers have even produced a specially prepared wound dressing using sterilized manuka honey.
- No risk of bacterial developing resistance. When an antibiotic drug is used to treat an infection, there is always the risk of bacteria eventually developing resistance to that particular drug. However, scientists have found that this does not occur in the case of manuka honey. It is able to discourage bacterial growth without the associated risk of bacteria developing resistance to the honey.
- Antiviral action.
- Treating wounds.
- Treating skin infections and alleviating damage to the skin as a result of disorders like eczema and rosacea. There are several recipes available for manuka honey-based preparations meant to be used for this purpose.
- Treating upper respiratory tract infections such as a sore throat and tonsillitis. It also helps to relieve a cough by soothing the throat.
Advocates of manuka honey also claim a wide range of health benefits, including but not limited to:
- Boosting immunity.
- Healing cuts. burns and leg ulcers.
- Treating fungal infections of the skin.
- Reducing hair loss and improving the texture and overall health of hair.
- Preventing the common cold.
- Improving digestion.
- Relieving inflammatory bowel disease.
- Boosting cell renewal in the skin.
- Curing cancer.
Are There Any Side-Effects?
Aside from the beneficial aspects of manuka honey, there may be some undesirable effects as well. The points appearing in the list below should be kept in mind when using manuka honey for treatment. These points are applicable to all kinds of honey. However, since manuka honey tends more often to be used in a therapeutic context, the following points are well worth remembering:
- Honey can sometimes give rise to undesirable interactions with other drugs.
- It is not considered advisable to feed honey to babies because it can contain spores of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum.
- It is also not advisable for individuals with a weaker immunity to consume honey since this can give rise to bacterial or viral infections.
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