Proponents believe it can relieve toothaches and burns, and even ward off a runny nose and sore throat.
But manuka honey may have another health power — the ability to fight superbugs.
Researchers found the trendy spread, which can sell for up to £1,300 a pot, could kill a particularly drug-resistant infection.
Experts behind the tests, conducted in petri dishes, claimed that manuka honey holds “great promise” in fighting Mycobacterium abscessus, the nasty bug it was tested on.
Manufactured by bees that feast on Manuka trees found only in New Zealand and Australia, the product often commands sky-high prices.
A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Katherine Jenkins have all touted the virtues of this “liquid gold” in recent years.
Mycobacterium abscess is dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or people with existing lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
It comes from the same family as tuberculosis and requires a cocktail of antibiotics — known as antimicrobial chemotherapy — to treat.
Patients can experience serious side effects from the drugs, including hearing loss, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and fatigue.
However, experts at Aston University in Birmingham found that using the honey in combination with lower doses of an antibiotic could help treat the infections.
This could pave the way for new drugs that combine the two substances and improve patients’ quality of life in the future, they said.
Researchers claim that manuka honey could also help fight a superbug that causes deadly lung infections
What is Mycobacterium abscessus?
Mycobacterium abscessus is a drug-resistant bacterium that can cause fatal lung infections in people with lung disease and a weakened immune system.
The bacterium is from the same family as tuberculosis, but differs in that it only poses a threat to people with conditions such as cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis.
Infections are virtually impossible to eradicate in people with cystic fibrosis.
It can also be fatal if the patient needs a lung transplant, as they are not candidates for surgery if the infection is present.
The bacteria can also cause skin and soft tissue infections.
Patients usually need a cocktail of antibiotics to treat the infection.
This may involve 12 months or more of antimicrobial chemotherapy, which does not always result in a cure.
High doses of powerful antibiotics such as amikacin are used, which can cause serious side effects such as hearing loss, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and fatigue.
Around 10,800 people in the UK have cystic fibrosis, making them susceptible to infection with the bacterium. About 40,000 are affected in the US.
Lead author and PhD student Victoria Nolan of Aston University in Birmingham said: “To date, treatment of Mycobacterium abscessus lung infections can be problematic due to their drug resistance.
“The variety of antibiotics required to fight infection results in serious side effects.
“However, the use of this potential treatment combining amikacin and manuka honey shows great promise as an improved therapy for these horrible lung infections.
“There is a need for better treatment outcomes and we hope to continue testing this potential treatment in the future.”
The study, published in Microbiology, used samples of the bacteria taken from 16 cystic fibrosis patients infected with it.
They grew the bacteria in petri dishes and tested how well the growth was stopped by a combination of manuka honey and amikacin.
The researchers mixed the honey with amikacin in different doses.
The dishes were hung from a metal pole in a sealed bag, with the combination of drug and honey sprayed into the bag using a nebulizer — a machine that turns liquid medicine into a fine mist.
They were sprayed for about 20 minutes before being taken out and incubated at body temperature for three hours to mimic how the bacteria would grow in the body.
The results showed that amikacin dosages as low as 2 micrograms per milliliter were required to kill the bacteria when mixed with the honey.
Usually eight times the dose is needed to treat patients when the powerful antibiotic is used alone.
The author Dr. Jonathan Cox, a microbiologist, said: “By combining an all-natural ingredient like manuka honey with amikacin, we found a way to potentially kill these bacteria with eight times less active ingredient than before.
“This has the potential to significantly reduce amikacin-associated hearing loss and significantly improve the quality of life for so many patients, especially those with cystic fibrosis.
“I am excited about the outcome of this research because it paves the way for future experiments.
“We hope that the funding will move us to clinical trials that could lead to a change in strategy for treating this debilitating infection.”
Manuka honey has been used to treat wounds for centuries, and experts discovered its natural antibacterial properties in the 19th century.
The honey has more antibiotic properties than traditional spreads because of the high levels of a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) found in the nectar of the tree’s flowers.
When this nectar is processed into honey, the DHA is converted to methylglyoxal (MGO) — which is antibacterial.
The chemical has been found to be effective against other drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria, including MRSA.
Every year millions of people around the world become infected with gram-negative bacteria – including E. coli. They are responsible for 75 percent of global deaths from drug resistance.
Rising superbug rates have fueled fears that common illnesses and medical surgeries could become more dangerous as patients succumb to previously treatable bacterial infections.