Manuka Honey

The market for Manuka honey has recently exploded, thanks to the perceived benefits of its natural antibacterial properties. But what evidence is there to support the claims?

In this article, we explore what Manuka honey is, what its properties are, and how it differs from other types of honey.

We also look at the evidence available to assess whether Manuka honey really is the next great superfood.

Historical use of honey

Honey has been used to treat wounds since ancient times, as detailed in a document dating back to 1392. It was believed to help in the fight against infection, but the practice fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics.

As we face the challenge of a growing worldwide resistance to antibiotics, scientists are examining the properties and potential of honey.

Qualities of Manuka honey

The leaves of the Manuka tree, also known as a tea tree, have been known for centuries among the indigenous tribes of New Zealand and southern Australia for their healing powers.

Bees that collect nectar from this tree make Manuka honey, which harbors some of the healing properties.

All Honey contains antimicrobial properties, but Manuka honey also contains non-hydrogen peroxide, which gives it an even greater antibacterial power.

Some studies have found Manuka honey can also help to boost production of the growth factors white blood cells need to fight infection and to heal tissue.

Manuka honey contains a number of natural chemicals that make it different:

  • Methylglyoxal (MGO): This has been shown to be effective against several bacteria, including Proteus mirabilis and Enterobacter cloacae.
  • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA): This is found in the nectar of Manuka flowers and converts into MGO during the honey production process.
  • Leptosperin: This is a naturally occurring chemical found in the nectar of Manuka plants and a few close relatives.

Manuka honey and wound care

Medical grade honey, used by healthcare professionals as part of a wound dressing, can help some kinds of wounds to heal.

Experts believe that because Manuka honey has added antibacterial and healing properties, it may be even more effective. At the moment, however, there is little evidence to support the theory.

A Cochrane Review looked at all the evidence available to support the use of honey in wound care. Published in 2015, the study said the differences in wound types made it impossible to draw overall conclusions about the effects of honey on healing.

The study found strong evidence that honey heals partial thickness burns around 4 to 5 days more quickly than conventional dressings. There is also evidence indicating that honey is more effective than antiseptic and gauze for healing infected surgical wounds.

Another study concluded that honey has rapid diabetic wound healing properties, but recommended more research to confirm that honey can be used as the first line of treatment for these types of wounds.

While some research does show that honey can help improve certain conditions, more studies are needed to confirm honey’s benefits for:

  • mixed acute and chronic wounds
  • pressure ulcers
  • Fournier’s gangrene
  • venous leg ulcers
  • minor acute wounds
  • Leishmaniasis

Manuka honey and bacteria

Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections all over the world. However, the bacteria the drugs are deployed to kill can adapt and become resistant.
Manuka honey has antibacterial properties and may be able to fight superbugs resistant to most standard antibiotics.

This resistance is currently happening all over the world, and a growing number of infections are becoming harder to treat. This leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs, and ultimately, more deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed resistance to antibiotics as the one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development.

The natural antibacterial properties of honey may be useful in this fight. In the lab, Manuka honey has been shown to be able to inhibit around 60 species of bacteria. These include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella.

Some studies have shown that Manuka honey can fight so-called superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics. These include Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA-15) and Pseudomonas aeruginosin.

This line of investigation is still in its infancy. These have been small, lab-based tests which combined medical grade Manuka honey with antibiotics.

There is still a lot of work to be done before scientists can come to a conclusion.

Other health benefits

There are many other potential health benefits of Manuka honey. These include:

  • reducing high cholesterol
  • reducing inflammation
  • reducing acid reflux
  • treating acne

There is, however, limited evidence for its use in these areas.

Using Manuka honey

The medical grade honey used to dress wounds is very different from the honey sold in stores.

Medical grade honey is sterilized, with all impurities removed, and prepared as a dressing. Wounds and infections should always be seen and treated by a healthcare professional.

Store-bought Manuka honey can be used in the same manner as any other honey: on toast, on porridge, or to sweeten drinks.

There is no clear evidence that people who consume Manuka honey in this way will notice any benefit to their health. It is not clear how the active ingredients that provide Manuka honey with its healing properties survive in the gut.

Risks

Honey is usually around 80 percent sugar, mainly supplied by glucose, fructose, and sucrose, so moderate intake is recommended. This is particularly true if you have diabetes.

Due to the recent trend for Manuka honey, it can be expensive, so it is important to make sure you know what you are looking for.

When buying Manuka honey from the store, look for the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) mark. This means the honey has been produced by one of the 100+ beekeepers, producers, and exporters licensed by the UMF Honey Association.

The number displayed next to the UMF mark represents the quantity of Manuka key markers, leptosperin, DHA, and MGO. Consumers are advised to choose UMF 10+ and above.

Fungi Have Enormous Potential For New Antibiotics

Fungi are a potential goldmine for the production of pharmaceuticals. This is shown by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, who have developed a method for finding new antibiotics from nature’s own resources. The findings – which could prove very useful in the battle against antibiotic resistance – were recently published in the journal, Nature Microbiology.

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were discovered in the 1940s. But recently we’ve had to learn a new term: antibiotic resistance. More and more bacteria are developing their own protection against antibiotics, thereby becoming resistant to treatment. This will lead to simple infections becoming lethal once again. Our need for new antibiotics is urgent.

The first antibiotic to be mass-produced was penicillin, derived from Penicillium fungi. In their quest for new antibiotics, Chalmers researchers sequenced the genomes of nine different types of Penicillium species. And the findings are amazing:

“We found that the fungi have enormous, previously untapped, the potential for the production of new antibiotics and other bioactive compounds, such as cancer medicines,” says Jens Christian Nielsen, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering.

He works in a research team led by another Chalmers researcher with almost the same name: Professor Jens Nielsen.

In the study, the research group scanned the genomes of 24 different kinds of fungi to find genes responsible for the production of various bioactive compounds, like antibiotics. More than 1000 pathways were discovered, showing immense potential for fungi to produce a large variety of natural and bioactive chemicals that could be used as pharmaceuticals.

In about 90 cases, the researchers were able to predict the chemical products of the pathways. As evidence of this, they followed the production of the antibiotic, yanuthone, and identified new fungi able to produce the compound, but also that some species could produce a new version of the drug.

All in all, the study shows vast potential for fungi, not only in producing new antibiotics but also in enabling more efficient production of existing ones – and maybe also more effective versions of the existing ones.

“It’s important to find new antibiotics in order to give physicians a broad palette of antibiotics, existing ones as well as new ones, to use in treatment. This will make it harder for bacteria to develop resistance,” explains Jens Christian Nielsen.

“Previous efforts to find new antibiotics have mainly focused on bacteria. Fungi have been hard to study – we know very little of what they can do – but we do know that they develop bioactive substances naturally, as a way to protect themselves and survive in a competitive environment. This made it logical to apply our research tools to fungi.”

Researchers now have various paths to follow. One way of moving forward could be to look further at the production of the new yanuthone compound. The Chalmers researchers have also drawn up a map that makes it possible to compare hundreds of genes in the continuous evaluation of bioactive products with potent drugs in sight.

How long it would take to launch new antibiotics on the market is impossible to say.

“Governments need to act. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to spend money on new antibiotics, it’s not lucrative. This is why our governments have to step in and, for instance, support clinical studies. Their support would make it easier to reach the market, especially for smaller companies. This could fuel production,” says Jens Christian Nielsen.

Article: Global analysis of biosynthetic gene clusters reveals vast potential of secondary metabolite production in Penicillium species, Jens Christian Nielsen, Sietske Grijseels, Sylvain Prigent, Boyang Ji, Jacques Dainat, Kristian Fog Nielsen, Jens Christian Frisvad, Mhairi Workman & Jens Nielsen, Nature Microbiology, doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.44, published 3 April 2017.

Could Fungi Be A Vast, Untapped Source Of New Antibiotics?

Fungi could harbor a vast treasure trove for new drugs to fight infections caused by bacteria and other microbes. This was the conclusion that scientists from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, came to after scanning the genomes of several species of fungi and identifying more than 1,000 pathways that make bioactive compounds. The team believes that the finding could be an important step toward solving the global problem of antibiotic resistance.
Penicillium species
Researchers believe that fungi – such as the 10 different Penicillium species shown here (each grown on two different media) – harbor a vast potential source of new antibiotics to fight infectious diseases.
Image credit: Chalmers University of Technology

The researchers report their findings in a paper published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Antibiotics are drugs that treat and prevent bacterial infections – either by killing the bacteria or by stopping their spread. Antibiotic resistance arises when the bacteria change after being exposed to these compounds.

Since the 1940s, antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs have dramatically reduced illnesses and deaths from infections caused by microbes.

However, due to the prolonged and widespread use of these drugs, the bacteria and other disease-causing microbes that the medicines are designed to kill have evolved the ability to survive them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 23,000 people die from them in the United States every year.

The illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria – which can infect animals as well as humans – are becoming much harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.

Fungi less well-understood than bacteria

Fast facts about antibiotic resistance

  • Antibiotic-resistant infections require longer stays in hospital, cost more to treat, and carry a higher risk of death.
  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant threats to public health, food security, and the world’s development.
  • It can affect anyone, no matter how old they are or where they live.

Learn more about antibiotic resistance

The World Health Organization (WHO) have warned that unless the situation is addressed urgently, the world is “heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.”

Nature is an obvious place to look for compounds with antibiotic properties. Microorganisms produce compounds that attack other species of microorganisms to help them survive in a competitive environment.

However, the researchers behind the new study note that attempts to find new antibiotics in nature have mainly focused on bacteria because they are much easier to study than fungi, about which we understand much less.

However, they note that fungi (much like bacteria) also make bioactive compounds – molecules that have an effect on living cells – to defend against competitors.

The team, therefore, decided to use the genome-sequencing tools that have been used to investigate bacteria to analyze fungi and their potential for producing bioactive compounds.

Altogether, the team sequenced the genomes of nine species of the genus Penicillium – members of which produce the penicillin that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928.

More than 1,000 pathways for bioactive compounds

The data from these sequences and those obtained from the sequences of 15 published genomes yielded what the authors describe as “an immense, unexploited potential” for producing bioactive compounds in this genus.

From the genome sequencing data of 24 different species of Penicillium, the team identified more than 1,000 pathways – patterns of particular molecular reactions and events – for producing a variety of bioactive compounds with medicinal potential.

The researchers were able to predict the compounds produced by 90 of the pathways – including those that produce antibiotics, called yanuthones.

Upon further investigation, they found a formerly undescribed yanuthone produced by a species of Penicillium that was previously not known to make yanuthones.

Thus, the authors believe that their findings show not only that fungi may offer a vast potential source of new antibiotics, but also that they unlock a source of new – and perhaps more effective – versions of old drugs. They conclude that:

“This study is the first genus-wide analysis of the genomic diversity of Penicillia and highlights the potential of these species as a source of new antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.”