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What Is the Relationship Between Manuka Honey and Cancer?

Manuka honey refers to honey made from bees that mostly feed on manuka plants.
Manuka honey.
Piece of a honeycomb with manuka honey.
Manuka honey, which is secreted by bees that feed on the manuka bush, may help ward off infection in patients undergoing radiation therapy.
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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Images By: Brent Hofacker, n/a, n/a, Pasi Välkkynen
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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The relationship between manuka honey and cancer relates primarily to cancer treatments: the honey is believed to help ward off infection and inflammation in patients undergoing surgery or radiation therapy. Manuka honey is widely praised for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Its role in treating cancer is somewhat controversial in the medical community, however, and studies forging the connection between manuka honey and cancer are largely inconclusive. When effective, the honey can be a great way to prevent infection without the use of added medication. Just the same, doctors usually caution against relying exclusively on natural solutions, particularly with conditions as serious as cancer.

Manuka honey is a type of honey secreted by bees that feed on the manuka bush, which is native to New Zealand. The honey looks and tastes much as would any other variety, but its chemical properties are usually quite unique. In particular, it has very high concentrations of the chemical methylglyoxal, which is believed to give it strong antioxidant properties. Most crops of the honey are antibacterial as well, though this can vary somewhat according to the quality of the original flower and its pollen. Medical uses of manuka honey more often focus on its antibacterial qualities, though the antioxidants never hurt.

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Cancers typically form in the body as a result of unchecked cell mutation. Antioxidants are known to help absorb free radicals, which can sometimes prevent mutations. Medical professionals often recommend that people eat regular servings of antioxidant-rich foods in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but there is little evidence linking antioxidant rich foods like manuka honey to cancer cures, however. Cancer is often too formidable a foe to be conquered so easily.

More often, manuka honey and cancer go together at the treatment phase. Honey-treated bandages may be able to reduce a cancer patient’s chances of infection after tumor-removing surgery, for instance, and may help prevent new cell mutations at the incision site. The honey can also be a useful tonic for patients recovering from radiation therapy. When ingested in substantial enough quantities, it may be able to help guard against the formation of ulcers and internal fissures.

Some holistic medicine practitioners prescribe organic manuka honey for certain skin cancers, which usually involves direct application of honey to cancerous moles or skin lesions. This intersection of manuka honey and cancer is not widely accepted by the larger medical community. Skin cancer is a very serious condition, but is one that, if caught early enough, has a high survival rate. The risk of using manuka honey as treatment is that, should it fail, the disease may progress far beyond the realm of easy medical solutions. In almost all cases, it is wise to get a second or even third opinion before making a decision about how manuka honey and cancer may go together in any particular case.

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