You probably know honey as the sweet sludge that comes in friendly bear-shaped bottles, but you haven't lived until you've tried raw honey, a thick, high-protein spread that blows the processed stuff out of the water.
Perhaps you're a more cultured sugar connoisseur, though, and are seeking a new, more exotic honey to add to your cabinet.
Manuka honey is here to change your life. Or at least the way you treat wounds. More on that to come.
What's manuka honey, and how is it different from the regular kind?
Manuka honey comes from the other side of the world -- it's made by bees that feed mostly on the nectar of the manuka tree, which is native to Australia and New Zealand, but true manuka honey itself comes from New Zealand.
The manuka tree is also known as the tea tree, and produces a medicinal oil from its leaves. When bees use the manuka tree's nectar to make honey, the result exhibits strong antibacterial properties, which make it a powerful, functional food that could be kept in your medicine cabinet as well as in your kitchen.
Manuka honey is particularly good for wounds
While many varieties of honey have been known for centuries to help the wound-healing process, manuka seems to be particularly effective because of unique compounds present in it, one of which is methylglyoxal. Many others remain unidentified, but what's clear is that manuka is superior to your run-of-the-mill honey when it comes to treating cuts, burns, and sores.
The coolest thing about manuka honey's antibacterial activity is the promise it's shown in combating resistant varieties of bacteria, like MRSA. MRSA is a version of staph that's become resistant to quite a few antibiotics; manuka honey not only seems to reverse MRSA's resistance when used with a traditional antibiotic, but also appears to be effective on its own against other kinds of resistant bacteria.
If you don't pay much attention to public health trends or potential disasters looming on the horizon, antibiotic resistance is a real problem, because if disease-causing bacteria no longer respond to antibiotic therapy, then what the hell are we supposed to do about it? We'll return to the days when you could die from scratching your face while working in your rose garden. If manuka honey offers one potential solution, humanity may not face the apocalyptic scenarios many international health organizations have predicted about the inevitable end of the antibiotic era.
It may work for acne and other skin conditions
Those wound-healing benefits are nice, but not everyone is wounded, thankfully. Many more people have acne, though, and it seems manuka may help treating it -- along with other chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and dandruff. Just smear some on your face (after doing a small spot treatment to make sure it won't irritate you), and see what happens!
It may also work on gut issues
You may have heard of your microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that reside in your gut. Most of them are friendly, helping you digest food and regulate bodily functions. But some can lead to severe chronic conditions, most notably H. pylori, which causes stomach ulcers, and the notorious C. difficile, which creates severe gastronomic distress that ranges from diarrhea to, in some cases, death.
You probably see where this is going. While it's far too soon to say manuka honey can treat these conditions, honey has long been a home remedy for stomach ailments, and has shown promising results in fighting both the C. diff and H. pylori bacteria.
With great power comes great price (and counterfeits)
Manuka honey is, understandably, not super cheap, as the real deal needs to come from New Zealand, and from bees that actually hang around manuka trees. Counterfeit manuka honey (yes, that's a thing) has been a problem thanks to the recent uptick in interest from consumers.
There's a New Zealand organization called the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association that publishes a handy list of accredited license holders, so you can easily check to see if you're getting robbed in the honey department or not. If you're using it for general skin treatments, you'll want something that's UMF 10+ or higher -- that stands for "unique manuka factor," and is essentially the honey's active ingredient.
Also, it tastes good
In the end, manuka honey is still honey, which means it's good for tea, toast, or eating straight from the jar.
So, if you're ready to pound some bacteria into submission, or you simply want to help get rid of a nasty cough, you may be in the market for this fancy-ass honey. Make sure you're not buying the fake stuff, and cross your fingers that more healthcare providers get in on the act. It's nice when nature gives back, isn't it?
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