A brief non scientific article attempting to explain some of the science behind the antibacterial activity of Raw Honey
If you’ve done any homework on Manuka Honey you will have seen the UMF trademark and will probably know that this is a measure of the antibacterial activity in that particular pot of Manuka Honey. But, ALL fresh raw honey has antibacterial properties.
If you’re interested in the health benefits of Manuka Honey it’s worth having a passing knowledge of some of the science behind the UMF trademark. I’m not a scientist, just an interested consumer of Raw Honey, so this is a brief overview.
Firstly it’s important to realise that there is an infinite variety of honeys. Different plants have different nectar with different qualities that vary from year to year and each bee will collect nectar from a variety of different plants. Some honey bees even collect honeydew from aphids.
Not only is the honey from each hive unique but even the honey from each cell of a honeycomb. Even so, if honeybees collect nectar from predominantly one species of plant then they will produce an identifiable single variety of honey such as, clover honey, acacia honey or Manuka. This gives us distinct flavours but also distinct properties.
Every strain of bacteria will react differently to the effective ingredients in each honey and raw honey can be dramatically affected by the way it is processed and stored. You can see why Prof Molan brought in the UMF standard!
There are three main factors responsible for the antibacterial activity of honey.
Available Water Bacteria need a certain amount of available water to thrive. The high concentration of sugars in honey reduces the amount of available water and thereby prevents the growth of bacteria. The same is true of plain sugar.
Hydrogen Peroxide Hydrogen peroxide is an anti bacterial chemical compound that has been used as a disinfectant and antiseptic. Diluted raw honey slowly releases Hydrogen Peroxide. Raw honey is diluted by fluids released from a wound and the way in which small quantities of hydrogen peroxide are slowly released from raw honey makes it an extremely effective antibacterial treatment. However, the enzyme that is responsible for the release of hydrogen peroxide is dramatically affected by heat and light.
The processing of honey by pasteurisation and the storage of honey in clear containers can very quickly destroy the enzyme and the antibacterial activity of the raw honey. This makes it very difficult to rely on the antibacterial activity of honey for medicinal use. ‘UMF’ Manuka Honey is one of the very few honeys that retain a further unique anti bacterial activity even after the enzyme (and the hydrogen peroxide) has been destroyed.
The reason for this is still undiscovered and much research still needs to be undertaken. Manuka is the most studied and by far the most effective honey at retaining an anti bacterial activity over and above the peroxide activity. So Manuka is the only honey that can currently be relied on for therapeutic use in modern medicine.
Because of the infinite variety of honey we discussed earlier NOT all Manuka Honey has the Unique Manuka Factor. That is why Manuka Honey is laboratory tested and graded. If it has the Unique Manuka Factor it will be graded given a number and be allowed to use the UMF trademark. If it’s not graded then its anti bacterial activity cannot be guaranteed and may be no better than any raw honey.
In conclusion Active Manuka Honey is the honey to choose if you specifically want to use honey for medicinal purposes. The UMF trademark assures you that the anti bacterial potency has been measured in an independent laboratory. Any Raw Honey if it is produced and stored effectively will have anti bacterial activity but without the Unique Manuka Factor.
Active UMF Manuka Honey has the most reliable antibacterial activity due to the Unique Manuka Factor.