ABU DHABI // A variety of honey long promoted as a health tonic may have anti-cancer properties, UAE scientists have found.
A five-year study by a team from UAE University in Al Ain suggests that Manuka honey effectively inhibits the growth of cancerous tumours in the breast, skin and colon.
It may also reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy, the scientists found. The study has been published in the scientific journal Plos One.
The honey has long been known for its medicinal properties, particularly as an anti-bacterial agent, to heal wounds and soothe many skin conditions.
“Manuka honey has been known since old times for its curative properties as an anti-bacterial and wound healer, but now it has been studied in detail for its potential impact on cancerous cells,” said Professor Basel Al Ramadi, the research team leader and head of microbiology and immunology at UAE University.
The research team gradually exposed three different types of cancerous mouse cells to small amounts of Manuka honey and found that the growth of the tumours came to a standstill, reported Al Ittihad, Arabic-language sister newspaper of The National.
Molecular-level analysis found that the honey acts by favouring the demise of cancerous cells.
The team concluded that a combination of Manuka honey and cancer medication could be an effective treatment of tumours, while at the same time reducing the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
However, much more study is needed before the combination can be considered as an approved medicine.
Manuka honey is produced by honeybees that feed on the Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), which grows indigenously throughout large parts of New Zealand and southeastern Australia.
Most producers are in New Zealand, although several UK and US beekeepers are trying to cultivate the plant.
Producing pure Manuka honey requires vast crops of Manuka bushes, which grow particularly well in Mediterranean climates with acid to neutral soil.
The honey is sold to health-food enthusiasts at a cost of between Dh50 and Dh200 per jar. Many claim it can help with a variety of ailments from clearing sinuses to treating stomach ulcers.
Aside from its health-giving properties, manufacturers also say its distinctive taste makes it rather good on toast.