Tag Archives: detox

Science or snake oil: is manuka honey really a ‘superfood’ for treating colds, allergies and infections?

The Conversation

File 20170912 3875 hr07v0
Sure it tastes nice, but what else can it do? from http://www.shutterstock.com.au

Nural Cokcetin, University of Technology Sydney and Shona Blair

Manuka honey is often touted as a “superfood” that treats many ailments, including allergies, colds and flus, gingivitis, sore throats, staph infections, and numerous types of wounds.

Manuka can apparently also boost energy, “detox” your system, lower cholesterol, stave off diabetes, improve sleep, increase skin tone, reduce hair loss and even prevent frizz and split ends.

Some of these claims are nonsense, but some have good evidence behind them.

Honey has been used therapeutically throughout history, with records of its cultural, religious and medicinal importance shown in rock paintings, carvings and sacred texts from many diverse ancient cultures.


Read more: Honey could be a potent medicine as well as a tasty treat


Honey was used to treat a wide range of ailments from eye and throat infections to gastroenteritis and respiratory ailments, but it was persistently popular as a treatment for numerous types of wounds and skin infections.

Medicinal honey largely fell from favour with the advent of modern antibiotics in the mid-20th century. Western medicine largely dismissed it as a “worthless but harmless substance”. But the emergence of superbugs (pathogens resistant to some, many or even all of our antibiotics) means alternative approaches to dealing with pathogens are being scientifically investigated.

We now understand the traditional popularity of honey as a wound dressing is almost certainly due to its antimicrobial properties. High sugar content and low pH mean honey inhibits microbial growth, but certain honeys still retain their antimicrobial activity when these are diluted to negligible levels.

Many different types of honey also produce microbe-killing levels of hydrogen peroxide when glucose oxidase (an enzyme incorporated into honey by bees) reacts with glucose and oxygen molecules in water. So, when honey is used as a wound dressing it draws moisture from the tissues, and this reacts to produce hydrogen peroxide, clearing the wound of infection.

The antimicrobial activity of different honeys varies greatly, depending on which flowers the bees visit to collect the nectar they turn into honey. While all honeys possess some level of antimicrobial activity, certain ones are up to 100 times more active than others.

How is manuka different to other honey?

Manuka honey is derived from the nectar of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) trees, and it has an additional component to its potent antimicrobial activity. This unusual activity was discovered by Professor Peter Molan, in New Zealand in the 1980s, when he realised the action of manuka honey remained even after hydrogen peroxide was removed.

The cause of this activity remained elusive for many years, until two laboratories independently identified methylglyoxal (MGO) as a key active component in manuka honey in 2008. MGO is a substance that occurs naturally in many foods, plants and animal cells and it has antimicrobial activity.

Australia has more than 80 species of native Leptospermum, while New Zealand has one, but the “manuka” honeys from each country have similar properties. There is currently a great deal of debate between the two countries over the rights to use the name “manuka”, but for simplicity in this article we use the term to describe active Leptospermum honeys from either country.


Read more: Manuka honey may help prevent life-threatening urinary infections


Can manuka honey kill superbugs?

The activity of manuka honey has been tested against a diverse range of microbes, particularly those that cause wound infections, and it inhibits problematic bacterial pathogens, including superbugs that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Manuka honey can also disperse and kill bacteria living in biofilms (communities of microbes notoriously resistant to antibiotics), including ones of Streptococcus (the cause of strep throat) and Staphylococcus (the cause of Golden staph infections).

Crucially, there are no reported cases of bacteria developing resistance to honey, nor can manuka or other honey resistance be generated in the laboratory.

There is good evidence manuka honey kills bacteria. Ryan Merce/Flickr, CC BY

It’s important to note that the amount of MGO in different manuka honeys varies, and not all manuka honeys necessarily have high levels of antimicrobial activity.

Manuka honey and wound healing

Honey has ideal wound dressing properties, and there have been numerous studies looking at the efficacy of manuka as a wound dressing. Apart from its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, honey is also non-toxic to mammalian cells, helps to maintain a moist wound environment (which is beneficial for healing), has anti-inflammatory activity, reduces healing time and scarring, has a natural debriding action (which draws dead tissues, foreign bodies and dead immune cells from the wound) and also reduces wound odour. These properties account for many of the reports showing the effectiveness of honey as a wound dressing.

Honey, and in particular manuka honey, has successfully been used to treat infected and non-infected wounds, burns, surgical incisions, leg ulcers, pressure sores, traumatic injuries, meningococcal lesions, side effects from radiotherapy and gingivitis.


Read more – Use them and lose them: finding alternatives to antibiotics to preserve their usefulness


What about eating manuka honey?

Most of the manuka honey sold globally is eaten. Manuka may inhibit the bacteria that cause a sore (“strep”) throat or gingivitis, but the main components responsible for the antimicrobial activity won’t survive the digestion process.

Nonetheless, honey consumption can have other therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and prebiotic (promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal microorganisms) properties. Although, these properties are not solely linked to manuka honey and various other honeys may also work.

What doesn’t it do?

There is a commonly touted belief that eating manuka (or local) honey will help with hay fever because it contains small doses of the pollens that are causing the symptoms, and eating this in small quantities will help your immune system learn not to overreact.

But there’s no scientific evidence eating honey helps hay fever sufferers. Most of the pollen that causes hay fever comes from plants that are wind pollinated (so they don’t produce nectar and are not visited by bees).

There is some preliminary work showing honey might protect from some side effects of radiation treatment to the head and neck that warrants further investigation. But other claims honey has anti-cancer activity are yet to be substantiated.

If you’re putting honey in your hair you’re probably just making a sticky mess. from shutterstock.com

There isn’t any robust scientific evidence that manuka lowers cholesterol, treats diabetes or improves sleep. Although one interesting study did show honey was more effective than cough medicine for reducing night time coughs of children, improving their sleep (and their parents’). Manuka honey wasn’t used specifically, but it may well be as helpful.

Claims that anything helps to “detox” are innately ridiculous. Similarly “superfood” is more about marketing than much else, and the cosmetic and anti-ageing claims about manuka are scientifically unfounded.

Final verdict

If consumers are buying manuka honey for general daily use as a food or tonic, there is no need to buy the more active and therefore more expensive types. But the right kind of honey is very effective as a wound dressing. So if manuka is to be used to treat wounds or skin infections, it should be active, sterile and appropriately packaged as a medicinal product.

The best way to ensure this is to check the product has a CE mark or it’s registered with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (marked with an AUST L/AUST R number).

The ConversationManuka honey isn’t a panacea or a superfood. But it is grossly underutilised as a topical treatment for wounds, ulcers and burns, particularly in the face of the looming global superbug crisis.

Nural Cokcetin, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Technology Sydney and Shona Blair, General Manager, ithree institute UTS

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Science or Snake Oil: can a detox actually cleanse your liver?

The Conversation

Nick Fuller, University of Sydney

This is the first article in our new ongoing series Science or Snake Oil. Articles will look at the claims for a product and decide whether they are supported by science or lacking in evidence.


The human adult liver weighs about one-and-a-half kilograms, making it one of the largest organs in the body. It is responsible for a range of functions. It helps break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins into substances the body can utilise.

The liver acts as a storage unit for these substances (including vitamins and minerals) and supplies the body with them when they need it. For example, when your blood sugar level drops, the liver will release stored carbohydrate (glycogen) to rectify the problem.

It also acts by metabolising toxins into harmless substances or by eliminating toxic substances from the body. Clever marketing has led us to believe it is the food that contains toxins and, hence, following a diet that eliminates certain foods and taking over-the-counter products that “cleanse” your liver of “toxins” will detoxify the liver.

Can the liver be ‘cleansed’?

We have a misconception we can “cleanse” the body by following a “detox” diet.

This is a complete fallacy. To explain this process one must first understand exactly what a toxin is. A toxin is a harmful substance that enters your body from the environment. Examples include carbon monoxide from motor vehicles, bisphenol A (BPA) from consumer plastics, and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Toxins can also include drugs and poisons.

However, substances are only toxic based on the quantities in which we ingest them. The situation in which “detoxification” is required is when someone is being treated in a hospital for a dangerous level of a substance that is life-threatening.

The liver is otherwise working to eliminate unwanted substances in the body through our faeces and urine. These are the toxic byproducts from the metabolization of foods. For example, excessive amounts of protein can be dangerous to the liver.

Many over-the-counter products claim to “clean” your liver of “toxins”. But does the liver really respond to an over-the-counter product that claims to “detoxify” or “heal” its function?

Most of these products contain the active ingredients from Silybum marianum (known as milk thistle) and Taraxacum officinale (known as dandelion). Many of the formulations also contain other ingredients such as selenium, phosphatidylcholine, amino acids, artichoke leaf, green tea leaf and turmeric root, to name a few.

Several companies produce a range of liver detox or liver cleanse products with varying quantities and ingredient compositions. But how strong is the evidence to show these active ingredients actually help with liver repair?

Some popular liver detox brands.
Screenshot, Chemist Warehouse

Milk thistle

Milk thistle extract (standardised to 80% silymarin) is the most commonly marketed herb claimed to “detoxify” the liver. Silymarin is the active ingredient in milk thistle. The use of milk thistle for treatment of various diseases dates back to Dioscorides, the first-century Greek physician.

In more recent times, it has been used to treat liver disease. However the majority of studies that have been conducted are of low-quality study design, so its purported efficacy is still questioned.

There is some evidence to suggest milk thistle (usually accompanied by other substances) is beneficial for improving blood cholesterol, insulin resistance and inflammatory markers in the body. There is no evidence, however, to suggest milk thistle “detoxifies” the liver – which many of these products claim.

Caruso’s liver detox active ingredients as per their website.
Screenshot, Caruso’s

Dandelion

Dandelion’s therapeutic use dates back to the tenth century for liver and spleen disorders.

Since then, the medicinal use of the plant has been tested for a range of diseases. But the evidence is contradictory, or based on poor study design with incomparable results.

Of greater relevance is that the majority of research investigating the efficacy of this flower extract has been tested only in animals. Similar to milk thistle extract, there is no evidence to suggest it helps to eliminate toxins or detoxify the liver, and hence serves no benefit for such a proposed indication.

A healthy liver

To have a well-functioning liver you simply have to eat healthy foods and limit your consumption of substances, such as alcohol, that cause it to work harder. Excessive consumption of any one particular food may contribute to an increased load on the liver.

Therefore, a healthy, well-balanced diet based on national guidelines is the best liver “cleanse” available, rather than spending disposable income on over-the-counter products that are not backed by scientific literature supporting such claims.

Complementary medicines are one of the largest growing markets in the world. Governing bodies must continue to incentivise companies to conduct innovative research to support the specific claims accompanying their products. It’s imperative companies are transparent in their advertising claims so consumers know what they are spending their money on from both an efficacy and safety point of view.

Evidence for approved ingredients should not be generalised from product to product. This is because the evidence supporting one such product is made up of a unique combination of ingredients and dosages. The most recent review of the regulatory framework for complementary medicines is available on the Department of Health website.

The ConversationNick Fuller, Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development and Assessment, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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