Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
December 16, 2019
It’s not just anecdotal; it’s medical science. Raw honey, especially manuka honey, has unique qualities that make it an amazing medicament for the mouth – not to mention the rest of the body. Several recent peer-reviewed articles describe the newest research and come to the same conclusion: manuka honey is at least an adjunctive medicine for the mouth.
Manuka honey wears many hats, especially for wound healing. It can be a toothpaste, an antibiotic, an antiviral, an antifungal, a regenerative agent, an anti-cancer substance, an antioxidant, a prebiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and so much more. I’ll discuss what it is, how it works in the mouth, how to use it, and brands to buy (including the one I use personally).
What is Manuka Honey
Manuka honey is a single flower honey, which comes from the manuka tree. It is native to New Zealand and southeastern Australia. To make manuka honey, beekeepers introduce European honeybees to areas that have a large concentration of wild growing manuka trees during their 6-week blooming period. Manuka trees are grown in a relatively pollution-free environment without exposure to industrial chemicals or pesticides.
Manuka honey looks and tastes differently than other honeys. It is thicker than other honeys because of high levels of specific types of proteins. Typically, it has a dark cream or dark brown color, and the flavor is considered to be “more earthy” than other raw honeys.
As with almost all honeys, Manuka honey is roughly 80% sugars and 17% water, with the last bit being comprised of minerals, organic acids, enzymes, etc. Its sugar content is made up of about 31% glucose, 38% fructose, and a mixture of more complex sugars that are harder for the body to breakdown. Honey contains 4% to 5% fructo-oligosaccharides, which are excellent prebiotics to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.
All honeys contain about 200 biologically active chemicals. These raw and unfiltered honeys are a good source of amino acids, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, but Manuka honey has up to four times the nutritional content of all other flower honeys. Most of the pharmacological effects of honey come from polyphenols, which are found in large concentrations in honey.
But Manuka honey has concentrations of a unique compound. Manuka has non-peroxide bacteriostatic properties that are the result of methylglyoxal (MGO). This biologically active compound is not present to any great extent in other honeys, and it enhances wound healing and tissue regeneration by its immunomodulatory properties.
In 2017, Niaz et al published a review of the tissue regenerating effects of manuka honey. The authors stated that their research showed, “Manuka honey can inhibit the process of carcinogenesis by controlling different molecular processes and progression of cancer cells.”
More than 100 systemic diseases and more than 500 medications have oral manifestations, with 145 commonly prescribed drugs causing dry mouth. And honey, especially manuka honey, can have beneficial effects on these oral manifestations.
For those of you who are fact-checkers, here are a few peer-reviewed papers proving honey has significant medical applications when used in the mouth:
- Honey exerts antibacterial effects on nearly 60 species and prevents the development of resistant strains of bacteria. ,,
- Manuka honey is effective in preventing growth of biofilm organisms, reducing the production of acids, and reducing gingivitis.
- Randomized controlled trials indicate honey helps prevent dental caries and gingivitis following orthodontic treatment.
- A double-blind, randomized controlled trial demonstrates that manuka honey and raw honey are as effective as chlorhexidine as a mouthwash.
- Manuka honey controls odor and inflammation in wounds secondary to squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity.
- Tualang honey has cytotoxic effects on cultured oral squamous cell carcinomas.
- Multiple reports indicate honey is beneficial in the treatment of radiation induced mucositis in people undergoing curative radiotherapy for their head and neck cancer.
- Honey is helpful in treating radiation induced xerostomia in people undergoing curative radiotherapy for their head and neck cancer.
- Honey enhances wound healing in non-healing or recurrent wounds in the head and neck area after radiotherapy.
Because Manuka Honey is thicker than regular honeys, you probably will use smaller amounts.
Toothpaste: Put about 1/2 teaspoon of manuka honey in your mouth and spread it around all your teeth using your tongue. Then use an electric toothbrush as you would normally brush.
Healing oral soft tissue lesions: Swish 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey around your mouth for a minute or so, and then swallow. Use as often as necessary.
Lips and corner of mouth: Apply manuka honey to dry lips and sore corners of mouth as needed.
Systemic benefits: Eat about 1/2 teaspoon of honey 2-3 times a day for systemic benefits like improving a cough and cold symptoms from upper respiratory infections, preventing gastric ulcers, and improving digestive symptoms.
A mouthwash: If you feel you need to “freshen” your mouth, swish with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey and then swallow.
Dry mouth: If you have dry mouth or xerostomia, swish with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey as needed and then swallow.
The New Zealand government’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) created the first global standard and scientific definition for manuka honey in early 2018. This is the only government-regulated and approved standard for manuka honey in the world.
As of February 5, 2018, all honey labeled as manuka honey and exported from New Zealand is now required to be tested to show that it meets the MPI standard before it can lawfully be exported. The test results from the certifying lab must accompany the export documents for the manuka honey ensuring that product packed in New Zealand is genuine.
Brands of Manuka Honey
(NOTE: I do not receive any compensation from any company whose products I recommend.)
My favorite is “Manuka Honey KFactor16” from Wedderspoon, which I use personally.
There are other manuka honeys that I have not personally tried but are highly rated by others. They are:
- Kiva Raw
- Manuka Doctor Bio Active
- Comvita Premium
- Happy Valley Honey
- Manuka Health 100% Pure
- Pacific Resources Fancy Grade
Raw honey – especially manuka honey – has been shown to be an effective adjunctive medicament for the mouth. It seems that Mother Nature may know best. Give it a try. I have, and I have been very pleased with the results.