Lots of you have told us Manuka honey can help with inflammatory conditions. So is there any science to back this up? We’ve taken a look...
What exactly is inflammation? It’s a natural, healthy part of the body’s healing process. When there’s any injury, infection or trauma in your body – such as a cut or infected insect bite, for example – blood rushes to the area to deliver important cells and proteins, and to help wash away any debris that might cause problems. The increased levels of blood, along with cells leaking into tissue, can cause swelling, and if there are high levels of repair cells, these may appear as pus. Eventually, when the area is fully healed, all the signs of inflammation will calm.
When is inflammation a problem? If you think of inflammation as negative, that’s probably because you’ve heard about it in relation to diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis and asthma. Sometimes, inflammation can occur inappropriately in the body when the immune system overreacts – so, even though there’s no injury or infection, the process described above still happens. And it tends to flare up repeatedly – so the inflammation itself becomes a problem, with symptoms such as heat, swelling, loss of function and pain. In the case of inflammatory skin diseases, such as psoriasis and eczema, it may cause itching and weeping. When it comes to inflammatory joint conditions such as arthritis, inflammation causes stiffness, swelling and immobility. Inflammatory conditions are often long-term, alternating between flare-ups and settled periods, and in some cases they may even lead to damage over time.
How is inflammation usually treated? Doctors prescribe medications to help calm inflammation – which can be anything from non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin, to drugs called biologics, which dampen the immune system’s reaction, depending on the severity of the condition.
Can lifestyle help prevent or ease inflammation? Yes – there’s research to show several key steps can make a difference. Excess weight is known to raise levels of pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines, so shifting pounds may help - in 2018, a review of the literature found weight loss could significantly reduce inflammatory markers.1 Regular exercise is anti-inflammatory – and not just because it helps control weight. A 2017 study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found just 20 minutes of activity could lower inflammatory markers.2 A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables and the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are helpful, while you should reduce pro-inflammatory red meat and refined carbs. Coffee, green tea, turmeric and ginger may all help zap inflammation, too.3 Try to reduce stress, whether that’s through yoga, meditation, walking or swimming – there’s a strong link between chronic stress and inflammation, research shows.4 Finally, quit if you smoke. If you have an inflammatory condition already, these steps may help you to manage flare-ups.
Can Manuka Honey help? Lots of Manuka fans certainly think so. At the moment, though, we don’t have solid science to back this up. However, there are some pieces of research to suggest Manuka Honey does have anti-inflammatory properties. A 2016 review of studies, published in Food and Agricultural Immunology, cited evidence Manuka Honey may reduce inflammation in skin disorders by quenching pro-inflammatory free radicals.5 And a 2019 study showed Manuka is so powerful in wound-healing because of its anti-inflammatory actions as well as its antibacterial effects.6 Its potent antibacterial effect may in itself play a role in reducing inflammation – a 2013 paper by world-leading Manuka honey expert, Professor Peter Molan, found Manuka honey is efficient at removing bacteria-harbouring substances in wounds that give rise to inflammation.7 What about using Manuka honey internally for inflammatory conditions? One small study of smokers found honey may reduce levels of C-reactive protein – an inflammatory substance - although this didn’t look specifically at Manuka honey.8 And some other research has suggested honey may calm inflammation in the inflammatory bowel disease colitis.9
The bottom line? We need more research to confirm whether Manuka Honey can be helpful in inflammatory conditions. Meanwhile, if inflammation is a concern, try to follow the proven steps that may help – and you can include Manuka Honey as a wellness booster too.
1 Bianchi VE. Weight loss is a critical factor to reduce inflammation. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2018 Dec;28:21-35. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.08.007. Epub 2018 Sep 3
2 Dimitrov S, Hulteng E, Hong S. Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 61, March 2017, Pages 60-68
4 Liu Y-Z, Wang Y-X, Jiang C-L. Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017; 11: 316
5 McLoone P, Warnock M, Fyfe L. Honey: an immunomodulatory agent for disorders of the skin. Food and Agricultural Immunology, 27:3, 338-349
6 Minden Berkenmeier BA et al. Manuka Honey Modulates the Inflammatory Behavior of a dHL-60 Neutrophil Model under the Cytotoxic Limit. International Journal of Biomaterials Volume 201
7 Molan, P. (2013). The use of manuka honey to promote wound healing. L.O.G.I.C (Linking Opportunities Generating Inter-Professional Collaboration): The Official Journal of The New Zealand College of Primary Health Care Nurses, NZNO, March 2013, 23-25
8 Ghazali WSW, Romli AC, Mohamed M. Effects of honey supplementation on inflammatory markers among chronic smokers: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative MedicineBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201717:175
9 Vallianou NG et al. Honey and its Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Oxidant Properties. Vallianou et al., Gen Med (Los Angel) 2014, 2:2