Researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain have discovered that Manuka honey effectively inhibits the growth of cancerous tumours in the breast, skin and colon.
In their study, which was carried out over five years, using animal skin tumour cells, the researchers administered manuka honey intravenously in conjunction with chemotherapy, and the results showed an improvement in the overall survival of the animal, local dailies reported.
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 recognised for its anti-bacterial and wound-healing properties for many years. However, the potential effect of manuka on cancer cells has not been investigated in detail," said Dr Basel Al Ramadi, professor and chairman of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the UAEU.
Professor Al Ramadi said the team used three different cancer cells (breast, skin and colon cancer) in the research and demonstrated that the addition of exceedingly small amounts of manuka honey, as little as 1.0 per cent, can stop the growth of cancer cells by up to 70 per cent.
The researchers, he said, then carried out an extensive series of experiments to uncover the molecular basis of manuka’s anti-cancer activity. "Our findings provided conclusive evidence that manuka acts directly by inducing apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells," said Professor Al Ramadi.
Apoptosis is a physiological process that all multicellular organisms use to balance their need for new cell generation with the elimination of old unwanted ones. This process is tightly regulated so that, in adult tissues, cell death exactly balances cell division.
"This is a very exciting area of research and we are optimistic about what these new developments may mean in terms of potential new treatments for certain types of cancer," said Professor Al Ramadi.
The research, he said, has also highlighted the honey’s potential property of reducing the toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients.
The study, recently published in an international scientific journal, was led by Dr Basel Al Ramadi and the research team is collaborating with colleagues in the departments of oncology and surgery in Tawam Hospital to continue their investigation.
Tawam Hospital has the most comprehensive oncology treatment facility in the country, registering up to 80 per cent of the cancer cases in the UAE.
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.