Lately, several studies on natural products for cancer treatment and prevention—not to mention thousands of dollars in funding—have focused on honey. But not just any honey. You may be surprised to find out that all honeys are not created equal.
In fact, quite a bit of the honey sold in stores is second rate or even downright dangerous. Read on and I’ll explain. . .
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Many people know honey as the sugary treat they use to sweeten up oatmeal and banana bread, or maybe a cup of tea. And all of us also know it’s made by bees following their collection of pollen from flowers.
But that’s where common knowledge stops. And yet, honey is so much more fascinating. The amber sweet-treat has been used for medicinal purposes dating back thousands of years. For one thing, it’s a well-known antiseptic that can be used to dress wounds.
Besides its various sugars, honey also contains flavonoids, phenolic acids, enzymes, amino acids, proteins, and miscellaneous compounds. The specific compound in each gram of honey depends on the floral sources used by the bees that made it.
Fascinating anticancer benefits from this natural sugar
Now, thanks to the many studies taking place on honey, we also know it helps fight quite a few types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, renal, prostate, endometrial, cervical, and oral cancer.
That’s due in part to honey’s having anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, and antitumor properties. Honey also contains phenolic properties that have been reported to show activity against different types of leukemic cell lines.
Studies have also shown that honey has an anticancer effect thanks to its ability to interfere with multiple cell-signaling pathways – and this is what leads to apoptosis (natural death) of cancer cells.
But while honey in general is a multi-useful (not to mention tasty) healing compound, it’s Manuka honey that really deserves the most fanfare…
The powerful honey of New Zealand
Manuka honey comes exclusively from New Zealand, made by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush. Manuka honey is used for a range of health issues, from digestive problems to sore throats to curing Staph infections and even gingivitis.
Manuka honey stands out because of its extraordinary nutritional properties—which surpass even the impressive qualities of regular, raw, unfiltered honey. Those “basic” honey nutritional facts include:
- Amino acids
- B vitamins
Yet Manuka honey has as much as four times the level of vitamins normal honey holds. There’s even a name for that phenomenon: the Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF.
The UMF has become a global standard for identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength of Manuka. It’s also a way to ensure that any Manuka honey you buy is of a medicinal quality.
The medicinal properties of Manuka honey were highlighted back in 1981 when researchers at the New Zealand University of Waikato measured considerably higher enzyme levels in Manuka honey than in regular honey.
This is significant because those enzymes form a natural hydrogen peroxide which has antibacterial effects. And while hydrogen peroxide can be found in most other honeys, it is more stable in Manuka honey and can’t easily be destroyed by heat, light, or enzymes in the body.
The lowest UMF rating recognized is UMF5, but Manuka is not considered medicinally beneficial unless it gets a UMF rating of 10 or higher. Anything above a rating of UMF16 is considered of superior medicinal quality.
There are two other grading systems for Manuka honey, both aiming to measure the chemical markers unique to the Manuka plant. These are MGO and KFactor.
The MGO grading system was developed by a professor named Thomas Henle in 2008. It’s mostly used by a company called Manuka Health. The KFactor is a grading system used by the Wedderspoon Company which has been approved by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries. Both Manuka Health and Wedderspoon contribute to ongoing scientific research for Manuka honey products.
The full mechanism for the anticancer abilities of Manuka honey isn’t completely understood, but in my book that’s of little consequence. There are enough studies, both scientifically conducted and observed in real life case studies, to show honey has an absolute positive effect on cancer.
Scientists still can’t explain the different effects that characterize honey from different floral sources. It’s also worth asking how it is that honey—which is basically sugar—has anticarcinogenic properties, while sugar itself is carcinogenic.
Second rate honey sold in most stores
These questions aside, my advice is to be careful where you buy your honey. A lot of products at conventional grocery stores aren’t much different from high fructose corn syrup.
An article published by Food Safety News showed that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t what the bees make. In most cases, the pollen that went into the initial creation of the honey has been filtered out through a high-tech procedure where honey gets heated, watered down, and then forced through extremely small filters to remove the pollen.
This creates a new health concern, because pollen is the only way to identify the source of a honey. This “ultra-filtering” has been used by the Chinese and some Indian outlets to flood the U.S. market with honey, often because their honey contains illegal antibiotics or is contaminated with heavy metal.
Instead, look for high quality honey. You’ll find it at your local health food store, farmer’s market, or a farm co-op. Your best bet for real Manuka honey, at least if you live in the U.S., is a health food store or reputable online dealer.
It’s not cheap, but given its many healing properties, it’s a worthwhile investment. The only potential side effect to worry about is if you have an allergy to bees. In that case, I’d tread with caution and report any adverse reactions from ingesting honey to your health care provider.
Also, readers of this newsletter know that I discourage eating sweets because sugar feeds cancer (and a host of other diseases). Honey can be rich in nutrients, but it’s also rich in sugar. For this reason, I see Manuka honey as a choice for people who absolutely can’t or won’t kick sugar out of their lives. For them, this type of honey is a superior substitute.