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Can Manuka Honey Treat Gastroenteritis?

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Gastroenteritis is a stomach infection, more commonly called stomach flu -- although it's not necessarily related to influenza. It causes inflammation of the stomach lining, with the primary symptom being diarrhea. Because manuka honey has a richer antibacterial content than traditional honey, it's commonly used to help treat gatroenteritis. The good news is most healthy adults will recover on their own, typically in less than a week.

Cause and Symptoms

You get gastroenteritis when you pick up a virus, bacteria or parasite from contaminated food, water, utensils or contact with an infected person. Your stomach lining becomes inflamed, and the resulting diarrhea makes it hard for your colon to hold on to fluids. The main symptoms are stomach pain and diarrhea, but sometimes vomiting occurs. You may feel fatigued, achy, dehydrated and generally unwell. You may also experience a loss of appetite, which makes it difficult to eat.

Helps Replace Electrolytes

People who contract gastroenteritis become dehydrated quickly due to diarrhea. The primary treatment is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes so that you remain hydrated while your body fights the infection. Like all honeys, manuka is rich in minerals, including sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, selenium, copper, manganese and phosphorus. It also contains very small amounts of water-soluble B vitamins, which may be lost along with minerals during bouts of severe diarrhea. Taking manuka honey helps replace lost minerals and B vitamins and also provides some energy while you're dealing with appetite loss.

Improves Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Manuka contains an antibacterial substance called methylglyoxal in amounts 100 times higher than that of conventional honeys, according to a study published in the April 2008 issue of the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. This makes it the honey of choice for treating stomach flu. However, a review published in the July 2005 issue of the Kathmandu University Medical Journal confirmed that conventional honeys, not just manuka, are also shown to shorten the duration of diarrhea related to bacterial gastroenteritis. On the flip side, honeys are not shown decrease the duration of viral gastroenteritis, according to the review.

Stimulates Healing

Manuka honey may stimulate or accelerate healing, according to a study published in the March 2007 issue of the journal Cytokine. Researchers found that manuka stimulated the production of cytokines, small immune proteins your body produces to help heal and recover from injury. Manuka, as well as two other honeys -- pasture and jelly bush -- significantly increase the release of three particular cytokines from human immune cells that are involved in tissue repair, according to the study.

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