Is Manuka Honey safe to eat?

MGO in manuka honey is highly toxic

We ask this question because manuka honey contains MGO. So, is manuka honey safe? What is MGO anyway?

MGO comes from Methylglyoxal and is a substance belonging to dicarbonyl group (a group of toxic substances). Manuka honey contains very high levels of this substance (over 1,000 ppm), hence the concern regarding its safety.

How toxic is it?

MGO is the main precursor to Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs)(wikipedia link). These are harmful compounds that can affect nearly every type of cell and molecule in the body and are thought to be one factor in aging and in some age-related chronic diseases. These substances can lead to the development or worsening of many degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, eye cataracts, cancer and diabetes. They are also believed to play a causative role in the blood-vessel complications of diabetes mellitus. AGEs speed up oxidative damage to cells and alters their normal behavior.

It is also true, that our body can detoxify this compound with the glyoxalase system. This enzyme system exits in any living creature, from the simplest life forms to mammals. Which should again, makes us realize the importance of detoxification of MGO.

Normally our body can detoxify these compounds, when they are found in some limited quantities. But our today lifestyle is working against our health, and we need to detoxify more and more MGO. Among others. Can we afford to add some other huge quantities of MGO from manuka honey? We need to consider very well the possible good effects as well as the negative ones.

If you want to buy manuka honey but don’t understand the grades, please read this article first:
Deciphering manuka honey: UMF15+, MGO400, 24+ Bio Active, KFactor16, TA. And LOTS OF FRAUDS.

What contains MGO?

• Methylglyoxal is present in many foods and drinks, including coffee, and is produced during glycolysis and sugar fermentation. There is more MGO especially in roasted instant coffees, decofeinized or brewed coffee and soya sauce. Many other foods also contain MGO, (but less than 10 ppm, even in bread at 0.5 ppm or beer at 0.03- 1 1 ppm), but that is a much smaller percent. Some manuka honeys has over 1000 ppm, and this increases in time (as shown below.) So there cannot actually be a comparison.
• It is produced by many strains of bacteria present in the intestinal tract.
• It is also present in tobacco smoke.

Some dietary glycation compounds in foods may pose a health risk. Others, such as the so-called melanoidins in coffee, may also exert beneficial effects by inhibition of tumour-related enzymes. (according to professor Henle)

What do the studies say about MGO alone?

The Interantional Agency for Reasearch on Cancer, in its monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, published in Volume 51, METHYLGLYOXAL, the laboratory tests done in order to decipher MGO’s effect.

MGO increases in manuka honeyThe results said the following:

Methylglyoxal induced sister chromatid exchange, chromosomal aberrations and micronuclei in cultured human cells. It induced sister chromatid exchange and gene mutations in cultured mammalian cells. ln yeast, it increased the frequencies of reverse mutations and of mitotIc gene conversion. ln prokaryotes, methylglyoxal was mutagenic in the absence of an exogenous metabolic system. Methylglyoxal forms adducts with guanine bases and nucleic acids.  (brrr…)

There are no data on the carcinogenicity in humans of methylglyoxal. There is inadequate evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of methylglyoxal.

Yet, these studies are done on MGO alone, and not in a honey combination. Honey is not only methylglyoxal, but a lot of other factors we are still trying to identify and understand.

What do the lab studies say about MGO in Manuka Honey?

Professor Dee Carter says that MGO binds to protein and DNA, and is very toxic to human cellslaboratory tests say Manuka is effective in vitro when it’s not contained in honey. When it is contained in honey it will not damage human cells, but still kill bacterial cells. And that is still a mystery scientists have to elucidate. She says “methylglyoxal on its own is toxic, but when it combines with what are, as yet, unknown compounds, it causes “multi-system failure” in bacteria.”

Here is a short list of some of the bacteria and viruses that Methylglyoxal has been shown to kill when tested in a lab environment:

Helicobacter pylori – the bacterium known to cause many stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers
Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA – also known as the super-bug for its high level of resistance to most available antibiotics
Escherichia coli (E. Coli) – known to cause serious food poisoning
Streptococcus pyogenes – a virus that causes sore throats

Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium found in the stomach, which may affect up to half the world’s population.
While it is frequently without symptoms, under certain conditions causes chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers. It is also linked to development of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer.
And because the antibiotics have often failed in killing the bacteria, manuka honey has been tested. Professor Henle’s studies has showed that manuka honey with high levels of methylglyoxal is stable in the stomach and, therefore, may offer a promising cure and improved gastrointestinal health. YET,

Clinical trials say somethig else:

Manuka honey against Helicobacter pylori.
McGovern-DPB; Abbas-SZ; Vivian-G; Dalton-HR
Journal-of-the-Royal-Society-of-Medicine. 1999, 92: 8, 439; 1 ref.

“Twelve non-diabetic patients with positive CLO tests but normal gastroscopies were studied. Active H. pylori infection was confirmed with 14C urea breath tests. Six patients were treated with a tablespoon of manuka honey 4 times a day for 2 weeks and 6 were treated with honey and omeprazole 20 mg twice a day for the same period. The batch of manuka honey used possessed non-peroxide antibacterial activity equivalent to 11.7% phenol. All 12 patients remained positive for 14C urea breath tests. It is concluded that manuka honey is ineffective at eradicating H. pylori.(source: http://www.airborne.co.nz/manukaantibacterial.shtml#Pylori2)

So,

While its efficiency was very well proven IN VITRO, the clinical trials in New Zealand, and subsequently in UK, showed that manuka honey failed to be effective against Helicobacter pylori in the stomach.
Further research is needed, with different dosage rates, before any claims of curing stomach ulcers can be made.

Other research, as the one describerd here: How to kill antibiotic resistant demonstrate other lab studies, according to which, while able to 100% eradicate bacteria when in a single form, the percent is of only 62% in eradicating MRSA biofilm forms.

In 2009, The British Journal of Nutrition was publishing a clinical trial made in New Zealand, demonstrating the safety of manuka honey UMF 20+ on healthy individuals. They use multiflora and Manuka honey UMF 20+. Neither of them has changed the levels of IgE or CML, or altered the microflora of the gut. It was thus confirmed that this manuka honey with a UMF 20+ is safe for ingestion, but also not showing any beneficial effects on lower gut bacterial levels. (!!!)
Maybe, just maybe, and that’s my personal opinion, this was because the individuals in the trial were all healthy. If a body was already healthy, honey did not modified anything. Why break the balance?
Anyway, more clinical trials, on sick people this time, are to be done, with different manukas and different other honeys.

MGO quantities in manuka honey increase over time! OMG!

A different research, published in 2009, made at Waikato University in New Zealand, has shown that MGO in manuka honey is derived from dihydroxyacetone (DHA). A substance that can be found in different quantities in the flowers of some L. scoparium sub species.

To quote from the research: “All the manuka nectars contained dihydroxyacetone (DHA) but in varying amounts” and “…. there is variation in the amount of dihydroxyacetone in the nectar and that certain manuka trees have the potential to produce honeys with high nonperoxide antibacterial activity, whereas others do not.” DHA decreases in MGO

Ii was also showed that MGO increases over time, as DHA decays into MGO as we can see from the graphic presented here (and the picture).  MGO doubled in concentration in the first month of storage and many tripled in under 4 months of storage.
(at these large quantities, will the yet-unknown compounds of honey be able to combine with MGO and keep it from intoxicating us?)

In 2011 a  research made in Australia (home of the manuka bushes) found DHA/MGO in honey, from 4 manuka species and it seems that many others of the over 80 species of manukas will contain DHA/MGO. How can we know of what sub-species of manuka our jar of honey is made of? (according to airborne.co.nz)

So, is it safe or not?

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On February 2012, Professor Henle from the Institute of Food Chemisty, Technical University of Dresden, said that dietary methylglyoxal in manuka honey is stable under the conditions of the mouth, throat and stomach, where it can kill bugs that cause infection. When MGO reaches the small and large intestine, it is rapidly degraded into lactic acid.

(We know it does that, because our defense system has its counterattack enzymes, but the question is, can they neutralize such a massive quantity of MGO? )

Professor Henle says: “The findings show unambiguously that methylglyoxal in manuka honey is not absorbed into the body and does not pose a dietary risk for consumers. Manuka honey is safe to eat – people can eat as much as they like, whenever they like.”

Conclusion?

We discussed here the safety of eating this type of honey, and not about using it externally.

Manuka honey, with a high content of MGO, was proved to be effective in killing potential bacteria associated with mouth, neck and stomach, in all studies made IN VITRO. There are some clinical trials that failed. More research is needed to clear the way of how honey should be taken, and what are the potential negative effects.

So, because it is a research in course, you must know that you proceed at your own risk. Don’t believe everything you read. Search for more info, sooner or later, there will be more clinical trials and more results. Or simply follow your instinct and that little voice you hear when your body is telling you what it needs.
(I promise I will stay updated and if you receive my newsletter, you will find out the latest news on this topic.)
And my advice, talk about this with your medical doctor. Manuka honey is powerful stuff. It is safe on an external use, but there are no evidence about its safety, when it is ingested. Talk to your doctor. For your own comfort, at least you will have somebody with a diploma, to blame for. Or give credit.

What is your experience with manuka honey?

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References:

The Interantional Agency for Reasearch on Cancer;
http://www.manukahealth.co.nz/news.cfm?article_id=155;
http://www.airborne.co.nz/manuka.shtml;
http://www.airborne.co.nz/manukaantibacterial.shtml#Pylori2;
http://umf.org.nz/research-pdfs
“toxic sign” picture courtesy Vlado, via Free Digital Photos

Is Manuka Honey safe to eat? was last modified: October 4th, 2016 by Laura

20 Responses

  1. Miluva says

    Dear Laura,
    Thanks for your information.

    How to do gargle with Manuka honey?

    • Laura says

      Hi Miluva,
      Dilute the manuka honey with water (still, not sparkling) or warm sage tea and than do the gargling. This is not very complicating, according to Collins Dictionary: “when you gargle, you wash your mouth and throat by filling your mouth with a liquid, tipping your head back and using your throat to blow bubbles through the liquid, and finally spitting it out.”

      It is important to gargle as long as you can (couple of minutes). Some people say you must do it till your throat starts to ache.
      Laura

  2. Adil J Cole says

    Laura,

    I came across your website while doing research on Sidr honey. I recently started taking a spoon of certified Manukah honey with a UMF of 15 once per day. I have been dealing with a stomach issue that has lasted approximately 2 months. I even went to the emergency room for the first time in my adult life because of the pain in my stomach. The GI seems intent that it is some long lasting viral infection. I wanted to give the Manukah a try after reading about its healing properties. Anyways, I read this article and became worried about the toxicity you mention. What is your recommendation for an ingested “healing” honey? Seems like Ikaria, Tualang, and Sidr from what I can tell from other articles on your site?

    • Laura says

      Hi Adil,

      It is important to have a diagnostic on your stomach issue before you take anything. It may just as well not be the stomach, but the guts, or the pancreas, or something else, you need to make the necessary tests.
      As for the toxicity of Manuka honey inside our body, UMF 15+ is safe, it doesn’t have huge quantities of MGO. Please read What kills Staphylococcus aureus? Does manuka honey kill MRSA?, you’ll find there a study on the efficiency of this MGO inside our body. And, some recommendations regarding other powerful antimicrobial honeys. You are right, tualang, sidr, maharishi are all excellent. But chestnut honey can be just as good. Besides, it’s closer and cheaper.
      If you have ulcer, any honey is good for it. Peter Molan, the man who studied manuka honey all his life, was regularly eating manuka honey for his ulcer. Regularly, yes, because he was living where manuka trees grow naturally so that honey was not expensive. And he doesn’t say the MGO content of the honey he ingested. Manuka honey can just as well lack MGO completely. It is not the most important antimicrobial factor of it.

      But be sure you know what you have. Because honey, of any type, reduces gastric acidity. If you are low on it, it will worsen the symptoms. And if you have SIBO, again honey is not recommended.

      Now, if I may, here’s a bit of personal experience. I had a terrible pain in the stomach and did all sorts of tests for 6 months. For nothing. And no, my honey (regular, multifloral honey) did not helped. Then one day I decided that before trying manuka, I should try colloidal silver, suspecting a virus or a microbe not usually checked in medical tests. I took 20 ml of Colloidal Silver 30ppm, 3 times per day, 30 minutes before meal. For 3 days. And I was free of the pain.

      Good luck in healing yourself and please let me know how it worked.
      Laura

  3. Rachel says

    I’m trying to understand all the labels and get what I think will still have high antibacterial value, but not a massive excess of MGO. If we were to ingest it, I see that you suggest in the comments a umf 20+, which converts to a minimum MGO of over 800 (according to this site- https://export-x.com/2014/05/29/manuka-honey-mgo-umf-ratings-compared/ ). If it doubles or triples over time (as mentioned in another article you wrote), that’s a LOT of MGO. I also noticed that you later stated you wouldn’t suggest an MGO 400+ Manuka honey for ingestion, as it could prove to be unsafe at high MGO levels. Am I misunderstanding how the labeling works or is there a contradiction here? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Laura says

      Hi Rachel,
      At this moment, the most recent study (from 2015) tells us that after ingestion the quantity of MGO decreases in our body. This can be considered a relief because indeed, we never know for sure how much MGO our manuka honey has. It can increase and decrease. And we also know that the antibacterial properties of this honey do not rely entirely on MGO.

      As for how much MGO we can find in a honey graded UMF 20+, it may be more than 800 mg or not. At one time there was a converter calculator on the umf.org.nz website, which is the only site I trust when umf is concerned. Now it is deleted for an unknown reason. They do not offer any other info as to what are the equivalents between these two indicators.
      I suppose it should not matter. UMF is a more complex grading, which offers much more than how much MGO is at a certain point in honey.
      Especially because it immediately changes. DHA will turn into MGO in time and alter the initial quantity.
      There are other blogs that publish some equivalents, but as I said, I will rely only on UMF Organization and wait for their explanations.

      As far as I understand UMF20+ may contain a certain quantity of MGO, let’s say 400 mg, but also DHA which may turn in a short time into other 200 mg MGO. And Leptosperin.
      If only the quantity of MGO is written on the jar, we don’t know if the honey has 400 mg of MGO and little DHA (because it was transported in hot temperature and the DHA has already turned into MGO, or this simply was the initial quantity), or if it has 400 mg MGO and a lot of DHA which will double the quantity of MGO in a short while.

      UMF contains both these markers and offers a more complete image.

      As for its safety, as there is no conclusive evidence, we still cannot say anything. Their study from 2009 said UMF20+ is safe. Both the most important researchers of manuka honey, Professor T. Henle and Professor Peter Molan said it is safe. Science generally says MGO is seriously dangerous in the body. And we lack clinical trials.

      In my personal (unprofessional) opinion, it is better to use manuka honey only for external condition. I still say 400 mg of MGO is too much for us, when ingested. But we can use it to gargle, for example, to fight MRSA or any other bacteria from our throat. And of course, if our conventional medicine fails, ingesting manuka honey may be the only way to solve things.
      Laura

      PS. I updated the conclusion of this article a little, please read that part again.

  4. Loredana says

    Hello Laura. Very good articles, I read all about manuka honey.
    I have a 5 years boy with Staphylococcus aureus from a pharyngeal exudate (throat culture). I want to give him Comvita manuka honey, but I don’t know if is good with UMF 15+ or UMF 20+.
    What do you recommend?
    Thank you.

    • Laura says

      Hi Loredana,

      Lots of us probably have it. But it is a good idea to try to eradicate it, before it shows its ugly face whenever our immune system is down. Manuka honey is a good choice and both UMF15+ and 20+ have good therapeutic values. I would go with 20+, but this is my personal choice, and please remember I’m not a medical doctor nor a therapist. I only research and gather information in one place so people can find them easily.
      Also, alternative remedies do not give immediate results. Be patient!
      And it would be a good idea (though an expensive one) for all the family to take it.
      As for the safety, Aborigines have always given their children manuka honey, as this is their usual honey. It is true that not all manuka honey have therapeutic value, but then you will not feed your son this honey all this childhood!

      A good idea would be to boost his immune system and for this Vitamin C is the most important. But in higher amounts than the usual. And also very important Vitamin D3, especially during winter. Please read Andrew Saul’s articles, mostly found on his site doctoryourself.com.

      And if you have time, I would also recommend reading dr Mercola’s articles, found here.

      Good luck!
      Laura

      PS. Please see the medical disclaimer on the bottom of this website.

  5. anju says

    hi, I am having allergic dry cough since 2 months and have tried a lot of syrups and even antibiotic and anti-allergic tablets. but nothing works. then someone told me to take manuka honet 400+ along with ginger. please guide if it is safe to take it and in what quantity and will it be able to cure allegic dry cough

    • Laura says

      Anju, I never recommend such a high grade manuka honey to be eatten. There are not enough studies and clinical trials to prove it is safe when taken internally.
      But you can gargle with a dilution of your manuka honey + ginger mixture. Keep it in your mouth and throat for as much as you can, but avoid swallowing it.

      Laura

  6. Irfan says

    Hi Laura,

    I’ve been applying Manuka honey for a little while topically. I am interested in research on safety regarding external use. Honey is known to have medicinal properties and highly favoured in the Islamic world as it was personaly recommended by the last Prophet. The skin absorbs nutrients to a certain extent, and i am wondering whether you migh have some insight regarding the ability of the skin to absorb the MG content of Manuka honey and potential negative effects?

    • Laura says

      Hi,
      All studies say that “Honey containing large amounts of MGO, such as Manuka honey, may be safely used as a topical agent for treating superficial skin infections, wounds and burns.” (Ron fessenden) The amount of MGO our body can absorb from a wound where manuka honey was applied, is way too small to consider its dangerous effects. The concerns are only when we are talking about ingestion.
      There is nothing to worry about using manuka honey in topical treatment. It’s a great choice.
      Laura

    • Irfan says

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you for your reply and clarification. Manuka honey definitely lives up to its reputation, a great choice indeed.

      Irfan

    • Laura says

      You are very welcome, Irfan.
      Laura

  7. NicoleJBN says

    Hi Laura,

    I’ve never heard about this honey before. I’m not really a fan of honey but it’s always good to try a new kind of honey.

    Isn’t it with everything, that some insitution or health organisation always has to say something negative? Too much of it may be not so healthy.

    Anyway, thanks for this post and have a great day!

    Nicole

    • Laura says

      It’s true, Nicole, some institution or a health organisation always has something negative to say. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they only follow some mean interests. But we should always remember that balance is the key in everything. Too much from a good makes it really bad.

      As for manuka honey, we are still researching, still at the beginning of the road, because our science concentrated on creating synthetic products instead of making the best use of the natural ones.
      Little by little, we will find the best way to use it. But until then, balance should be our number one rule.

      Thank you for dropping by
      laura

  8. Seth says

    Hello Laura. This is great post and all detail info about the benefit of the honey to life. Never know this, thanks for sharing.

    Seth

    • Laura says

      Hi Seth,
      Yes, honey has so many good benefits. We will probably never know them all.
      laura

  9. Olive says

    Great article. Personally I don’t eat it but it’s the only thing that healed my wound after a c-section. Well done and keep up the great work you are doing. Olive

    • Laura says

      Did you use Medihoney (standardized antibacterial honey)? Manuka honey’s effect on external wounds are amazing indeed! And for this any honey is good. Egyptians were using it to treat wounds, 4000 years ago.
      thank for your good words.
      Laura

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