Honey has been used since ancient times to treat multiple conditions. It wasn't until the late 19th century that researchers discovered that honey has natural antibacterial qualities.
Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Some honey also stimulates production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. In addition, honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly reduce pain and inflammation once it is applied.
But not all honey is the same. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it's harvested. Some kinds of honey may be 100 times more potent than others.
The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities. In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound -- dihydroxyacetone -- that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers. MG is thought to give manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect.
Another recent study suggests that manuka honey may be effective in preventing gingivits and other periodontal disease by reducing the buildup of plaque. And in 2010, the scientific steering committee of the National Cancer Institute approved a proposal for the use of manuka honey for the reduction of inflammation of the esphogus associated with chemotherapy.
Another possible benefit of honey is that, unlike antibiotics, it has not been reported to cause development of resistant bacteria. These so-called "superbugs" develop after repeated exposure to common antibiotics. They require special antibiotics to treat them.
Manuka honey is also effective for treating high cholesterol and balancing the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.