Science of Manuka Honey

There is a growing body of academic research supporting the therapeutic and medicinal value of Manuka Honey,since the pioneering work by Dr Peter Molan in New Zealand. This includes

  • Work at the University of Dresden (Germany) identifying the significance of MGO,
  • Research in Japan on the chemical identifiers in Leptospermum honey (such as Leptopserin and Methyl Syringate),
  • Work in the University of Technology, Sydney on the dietary benefits of Australian honey, 
  • Research by the University of Sunshine Coast quantitatively measuring the active ingredients dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and methylglyoxal (MGO) and their regional dispersion within Australia, and
  • Work by the University of Western Australia on genetic profiling of unique and endemic Australian species. 

Therapeutic Manuka Honey: No Longer So Alternative 

Dee A. Carter1*, Shona E. Blair2, Nural N.Cokcetin2, Daniel Bouzo2, Peter Brooks3, Ralf Schothauer4 and Elizabeth J. Harry2 

1 School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2 The ithree institute, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, 3 University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD, Australia, 4 Comvita NZ Limited, Te Puke, New Zealand 

PMID: 27148246    PMCID: PMC4837971   DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00569

Mini literature review including regarding the active ingredients in Manuka honey, and the state of research into its various therapeutic impacts – for example on the treatment of varicella-zoster virus (chicken pox/shingles), influenza, dermatological fungi, and interaction with antibiotics.

Leptospermum Polygalifolium

The Antibacterial Activity of Australian Leptospermum Honey Correlates with Methylglyoxal Levels 

Nural N. Cokcetin , Matthew Pappalardo , Leona T. Campbell, Peter Brooks, Dee A. Carter, Shona E. Blair, Elizabeth J. Harry 

Published: December 28, 2016 

Comparing various samples of Australian Leptospermum with controls (including of Leptospermum scoparium from New Zealand) indicating that there was a huge range in anti bacterial activity within the Australian samples, including samples with significantly higher levels of activity than the New Zealand samples.  This included samples of Leptospermum polygalifolium, Leptospermum liversidgei or mixed Leptospermum drawn from the Northern Rivers area of northern New South Wales.   These varieties are endemic to Australia only.  

This paper also builds on the work done in 2006-7 collecting samples of Australian Leptospermum honey samples and repeat testing them to find that the NPA is stable for at least 7 years under storage at 4 degrees C in the dark.   Furthermore, the majority of the Leptospermum polygalifolium samples had increased NPA relative to those found 7 years before, possibly due to the conversion of active element DHA to MGO in that time.

The effect of standard heat and filtration processing procedures on antimicrobial activity and hydrogen peroxide levels in honey

Chen C, Campbell, L.T, Blair, S. E, Carter, D.A. 

School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW 

PMID: 22866051   PMCID: PMC3406342  DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2012.00265

Pub: 2012 July 27   Doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2012.00265

This paper concludes that processing was usually detrimental to antimicrobial activity, although the effect did vary between samples.  In particular, even relatively mild heat processing can reduce anti-microbial activity.

Leptospermum Laevigatum

The Antibacaterial Activity of Honey Derived from Australian Flora 

Irish J, Blair S, Carter DA (2011) 

School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney 

PLoS ONE 6(3): e18229. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0018229 

Seminal study of antimicrobial activity in honey from Australian sources, which found very high levels of non hydrogen peroxide activity in at least three varieties of Leptospermum : L polygalifolium, L liversidgei and L laevigatum,  and in other species, in fact exceeding that reported in honey from other countries.   Phenol levels were in the range of 14-19.9{8a0e491dd3ad6e88f7d3acb98b452eea45959bbd9c4cc0ea77aa6c9ccfd2e8f8}, with levels in excess of 10{8a0e491dd3ad6e88f7d3acb98b452eea45959bbd9c4cc0ea77aa6c9ccfd2e8f8} considered to provide therapeutic benefits as an antimicrobial. 

Interestingly, where for most other honeys non peroxide antibacterial activity decreased over time, for these particular Leptospermum varieties and samples, the activity increased over time. 

The authors note that it appears that location and entomological factors appear to affect antibacterial activity in honey, even if derived from similar areas.  This underlies the importance of testing of samples to ensure the strength of Manuka Honey.  

Dihydroxyacetone Production in the Nectar of Australian Leptospermum is Species Dependent  

Williams SD, Pappalardo L, Bishop J, Brooks PR.

J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Oct 24;66(42):11133-11140. Doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b04363. Epub 2018 Oct 15. PMID: 30289260

This reports a large scale study into the presence of DHA in the nectar of the Australian Leptospermum tee species.  It finds considerable variation amongst species with very high ratios (>16 000 mg/kg) of DHA to total sugar in Leptospermum speciosum and Leptospermum whitei.

Rifampicin-Manuka Honey Combinations Are Superior to Other Antibiotic-Manuka Honey Combinations in Eradicating Staphylococcus aureus Biofilms 

Michael Y. Liu1, Nural N. Cokcetin1*, Jing Lu1, Lynne Turnbull1, Dee A. Carter2, CynthiaB.Whitchurch1 andElizabethJ.Harry1 

1 The ithree Institute, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia, 2 School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia 

Front Microbiol 2018 Jan 11;8:2653.doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.02653. eCollection 2017 PMID: 29375518   PMCID: PMC5768656  DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.02653

This studies the application of medical grade Manuka Honey to chronic wound infections with rifampicin resulting in greater effectiveness against established staphylococcal biofilms

There are numerous other studies and reviews regarding the therapeutic benefits of Manuka Honey.  For example:

  • Regarding wound treatment, and anti-proliferative effects against cancer cells : (Alvarez-Suarez, J., Gasparrini, M, Forbes-Hernandez, T, Mazzoni, L & Giampieri, F, 2014) 
  • Regarding the anti-bacterial action of Manuka Honey, including the interaction of the major active ingredient Methylglyoxal, with other aspects of the Manuka Honey : (Bouzo, D, Cokcetin, N, Li, L, Ballerin, G, Bottomley, A, Lazenby, J, Whitchurch, C, Paulsen, I, Hassan, K& Harry, E, 2020)
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MGO stands for methylglyoxal, the naturally occurring compound that makes Manuka Honey so special.

Testing by university laboratories indicates that Nutradeen Australian Manuka Honey exceeds the MGO levels indicated on all our bottles.

For more information see FAQ and Accreditations and Quality Testing