Manuka honey proves it worth in healing horse wounds, but quality is essential – study

Manuka honey has been shown to improve wound healing. Photo: Sage Ross CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Manuka honey has been shown to improve wound healing. Photo: Sage Ross CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The value of manuka honey in helping to heal horse wounds has been shown in an Australian study, but the researchers say its important to use only the highest grades.

The researchers showed that manuka honey can have significant healing properties but not when it has a low Unique Manuka Factor (UMF).

Manuka honey is the only honey graded for antibacterial activity. It is graded against the standard antiseptic phenol.

The UMF scale runs from 0-30 and graded honey will have this on the packaging.

The study team tested whether UMF 20 honey had better effects on healing than UMF 5 honey and generic-store bought honey. They compared the results to healing of untreated wounds treated only with saline as a control.

The researchers also analysed whether the healing was primarily due to manuka honey’s antibacterial effects or because of effects on the cells that help healing.

Professor Andrew Dart, from the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science, said the research was the most recent of a series of studies investigating the effects of manuka honey on healing of open wounds of horses.

“Honey has been used to help healing of wounds since ancient Egypt,” said Dart, a registered equine surgical specialist.

“Recent interest in manuka honey has been for its superior antibacterial activity, particularly in humans where it can be effective against many of the antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.”

A bee visits a manuka flower. Photo: Avenue CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A bee visits a manuka flower. Photo: Avenue CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Most honeys are active against bacteria because they contain an enzyme glucose oxidase, which produces hydrogen peroxide from glucose. With heat treatment and time this enzyme is destroyed.

The active constituent in manuka honey is methylglyoxal which actually increase in concentration over time.

“So, often store bought generic honey has been heat treated and stored in unfavourable conditions so has variable activity. Even fresh bought honey has not been graded like manuka honey so any activity is highly variable,” Dart said.

Honeys have other bioactive components, so the effects of all honeys from different sources may vary depending on the profile of active components.

Manuka honey has also been found to contain an active component that stimulates the release of chemicals from the inflammatory cells to enhance the early healing process. So manuka honey may have antibacterial effects and other direct beneficial effects on healing.

Hindlimb wounds on Standardbred horses were used in the study, each measuring about 2.5cm square. All wounds were bandaged for 12 days, with the dressing changed daily. Wound sizes were measured at the start of the study and weekly for six weeks.

The study, reported in the September issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal, found wounds treated with UMF 20 honey daily for as little as 12 days healed faster than wounds treated with generic honey and untreated wounds.

Wounds treated with generic honey did not heal better than untreated wounds.

Wounds treated with UMF 5 honey healed better than untreated wounds and wounds treated with generic honey, but not as well as those treated with UMF 20 honey. However these results were not statistically different but it is possible if more animals were studied, this difference may have been significant.

Dart said the findings supported previous studies that UMF 20 manuka honey improved wound healing in horses. Most of the beneficial effects are due to the antibacterial activity but there may be some direct effects on the wound to enhance healing.

“If a wound is heavily contaminated or at risk of infection, using a high UMF manuka honey is warranted. But if the wound is not heavily contaminated then using a lower and less expensive manuka honey may be beneficial.

“Store-bought generic honey probably has no beneficial effect over no treatment,” Dart said.

“While it is not possible to directly translate this research to humans or other animals, it is likely that the effects are similar and safe based on the body of research available.”

Tsang, A., Dart, A., Sole-Guitart, A., Dart, C., Perkins, N. and Jeffcott, L. (2017), Comparison of the effects of topical application of UMF20 and UMF5 manuka honey with a generic multifloral honey on wound healing variables in an uncontaminated surgical equine distal limb wound model. Aust Vet J, 95: 333–337. doi:10.1111/avj.12616

The abstract can be read here



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