Using manuka honey for vulvovaginal infections

Manuka honey is the honey made by bees when they gather nectar from the manuka bush, also known as tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium). This plant is native to New Zealand and some parts of Australia, with abundant growth in the New Zealand bush. Manuka honey is known to have unique properties, especially antimicrobial.

Manuka honey has been used historically in New Zealand for wound healing and other ailments, with honey used across the globe by many ancient populations.

Honey is used as a treatment for:

  • Coughs
  • Wounds
  • Stomach ailments
  • Sore throats, strep throat
  • Burns
  • Injuries
  • Immune boosting
  • Infection preventative
  • Vulvovaginal infections
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Abscesses
  • Conjunctivitis

Not all honey has healing qualities, with the plants the bees collect nectar from being of primary importance in the properties the honey holds. Manuka honey is extremely stable, able to tolerate exposure to light, air, and heat, and able to be stored for long periods of time without losing its potency.

How does manuka honey work on microbes?

Honey is able to exert its healing effect via the action of glucose oxidase, an enzyme produced by bees as they collect the nectar. As the honey is exposed to oxygen and put onto a damp surface (like a cut or wound), a chemical reaction occurs that releases hydrogen peroxide. This hydrogen peroxide acts as a disinfectant.

Honey is acidic, but has a low water content, which inhibits microorganisms – any microbes entering the honey become dehydrated and die. Most microbes can’t grow or reproduce in honey because of this, but the active antimicrobial qualities vary depending on the honey. Manuka honey from New Zealand is considered the most potent and bioactive honey in the world.

German researchers identified a natural compound, methylglyoxal (MGO), which is thought to be responsible for manuka honey’s unique properties. Manuka honey has up to 100 times more of this compound than any other type of honey tested, including on honey that was diluted up to 30 per cent. Manuka honey must contain at least 100mg/kg of methylglyoxal to inhibit harmful pathogens.

Grades of manuka honey

Manuka honey has a grading system, developed by Professor Peter Molan, a New Zealand biochemist. He set up the unique manuka factor, or UMF, which works with the glucose oxidase to increase its antibiotic action. The main microbe tested for the UMF is Staphylococcus aureus.

UMF RATINGMINIMUM MGO*
METHYLGLYOXAL
MINIMUM NPA**
NON-PEROXIDE ACTIVITY
UMF 20+82920.0
UMF 18+69218.0
UMF 15+55015.6
UMF 15+51415.0
UMF 12+40012.9
UMF 12+35412.0
UMF 10+26310.0
UMF 5+1005.6
UMF 5+835.0
302.7

* MGO is measured as mg/kg (ppm)
** NPA is measured as % solution (%w/v) of phenol/water

Research into manuka honey

  • Daily applications of manuka honey to three hospice patients suffering ulcers infected with methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) reported success (2006, Palliative Medicine)
  • Manuka honey has been demonstrated as effective against streptococci bacteria in strep throat, athlete’s foot (tinea), ringworm, fungi, protozoa, and other infectious pathogens
  • Manuka honey is twice as effective as other honey against Escherichia coli and S. aureus
  • When taken internally, manuka honey boosts immunity and in that way can help fight infections, also encouraging rehydration and reducing the duration of diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach upset
  • Manuka honey is effective against Helicobacter pylori, a cause of stomach ulcers
  • Evidence shows that treating acne, cracked skin, sore gums, and eye infections respond well to manuka honey
  • Acid-producing bacteria in the mouth that degrade teeth enamel were found to have their acid-producing abilities thwarted by manuka honey in the lab, providing treatment options for gingivitis and gum disease
Why honey is an effective, useful treatment for external wounds
  • Provides effective barrier to the outside world
  • Keeps wounds moist
  • Provides controlled delivery of hydrogen peroxide to wound
  • Has a rapid effect
  • Dressings saturated in honey do not stick to wounds
  • Helps reduce scarring
  • Stops wounds from smelling bad
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

Using manuka honey vaginally

Manuka honey can be used to treat vulvovaginal infections, however the highest quality preparations must be used (high UMF). Honey can be messy to use, since it is a sticky, thick liquid, so vaginal or vulvar use requires care to protect clothing from the sticky honey.

Manuka honey may be useful for treating:

Manuka honey is best applied at night, inserted deep vaginally using a small syringe canister. Draw the liquid slowly into the syringe, and then insert deeply into the vagina (carefully). Use a pad or panty liner to protect your underwear if this is a concern. Honey is water soluble, so will wash out of clothing with normal laundry cycles.

A vaginal pessary can be made and frozen, but the jury is not out yet on whether you can safely freeze manuka honey without losing some of its potency. Making a mixture with coconut oil means you can put the pessaries into the fridge safely to harden, and then use as necessary. This makes the solution harden, but not freeze. Feel free to make your own inventions here, but remember the honey should be the main ingredient.

Because of the cost of manuka honey, use sparingly with 5-10ml at a time. Increase or decrease the dose as you see fit – you want the honey to cover your vaginal walls and/or vulva, so base your dose on your symptoms. Start off low and increase if your symptoms persist.

Insert manuka honey before bed to avoid gravity causing it to leak out too soon. For vulvar complaints, a pad or panty liner can be worn during the day with an application. Remember that heat will cause the honey to become runnier, so do a test run before going to work with underwear full of honey!

Using manuka honey as an oral treatment

Take manuka honey a spoon at a time on an empty stomach, or on a small piece of bread about 20 minutes before a meal to help boost your immunity while treating your vaginal infections. This treatment can also be used to treat digestive upset, throat infections, and other internal problems like ulcers.

Cautions when using manuka honey

Manuka honey is raw honey sterilised by gamma irradiation to eliminate the risk of botulism transmission – a rare, but deadly infection. The irradiation does not reduce manuka honey’s antimicrobial activity. Some minor stinging may occur initially due to the honey’s acidic nature, however this should pass.

References

The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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