What is MGO in Manuka Honey?

In this article, we will delve into the world of Manuka honey, exploring the significance of MGO, its role in Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties, and how to choose the right MGO concentration for your needs.

We will also discuss the health benefits of MGO, the authenticity and quality control measures in Manuka honey production, and how to incorporate this powerful honey into your daily life. Whether you’re a seasoned Manuka honey enthusiast or new to this natural wonder, this comprehensive guide will provide you with valuable information to better understand and appreciate the importance of MGO in Manuka honey.

What is mgo in Manuka Honey?

MGO: The Key Component of Manuka Honey

Methylglyoxal (MGO) is a small organic molecule naturally present in honey, coffee, and certain fruits, generally in very small amounts. But it is found in much higher concentrations in Manuka honey than anywhere else. MGO is responsible for many of the unique attributes of Manuka honey, including its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.

The MGO in Manuka honey is primarily derived from the conversion of a compound called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is abundant in the nectar of the Manuka tree. As the honeybees collect the nectar and produce honey, DHA undergoes a chemical transformation, resulting in the formation of MGO. The concentration of MGO in Manuka honey can vary significantly depending on factors such as the region, climate, and the specific Manuka tree from which the nectar was sourced.

Scientists have identified MGO as one of the primary bioactive components in Manuka honey, making it a critical component in determining the honey’s quality, potency, and overall effectiveness. Its presence has a direct impact on the honey’s Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating, which is an industry-standard measurement of the honey’s antibacterial strength. The higher the MGO concentration, the stronger the honey’s antibacterial activity and potential health benefits.

MGO’s Role in Manuka Honey’s Antibacterial Properties

Methylglyoxal (MGO) is the primary compound responsible for Manuka honey’s potent antibacterial properties, setting it apart from other honey varieties. MGO’s mode of action is multifaceted and targets various aspects of bacterial cells, making it difficult for bacteria to develop resistance.

  1. Damage to bacterial proteins: MGO can react with the amino groups of proteins in bacterial cells, forming advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These modifications can disrupt the normal function of proteins, impairing essential cellular processes and ultimately contributing to bacterial cell death.
  2. Alteration of bacterial DNA: MGO can also interact with bacterial DNA, causing modifications that hinder the replication and transcription processes. These disruptions may lead to errors in the genetic code, impeding bacterial growth and reproduction.
  3. Compromising bacterial cell membranes: MGO’s reactive nature allows it to interact with lipids in bacterial cell membranes. This interaction can lead to changes in the structure and integrity of the membrane, causing increased permeability and, in some cases, cell lysis (breakdown of the cell membrane).
  4. Inhibition of biofilm formation: Biofilms are aggregates of bacteria encased in a protective matrix, making them more resistant to antibiotics and the host immune system. MGO has been shown to inhibit biofilm formation by interfering with bacterial communication, known as quorum sensing, and disrupting the extracellular matrix that holds the biofilm together. This can prevent the establishment of chronic infections and increase the susceptibility of bacteria to antibiotics and immune defences.
  5. Enhancing immune response: In addition to its direct effects on bacteria, MGO in Manuka honey may also support the host immune system. Research suggests that MGO can stimulate the release of certain immune cells’ cytokines, which are signalling molecules that help coordinate the immune response to infection. This can enhance the body’s ability to fight off bacterial infections more effectively.

It is important to note that while MGO is the primary compound responsible for Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties, other factors may also contribute to its overall antimicrobial activity. These include the honey’s low pH, high sugar content, and other bioactive components such as hydrogen peroxide and bee defensin-1. The synergistic action of these factors, along with MGO, makes Manuka honey a powerful natural remedy against various bacterial infections.

Measuring MGO Levels: The UMF and MGO Rating Systems

When it comes to evaluating the quality and potency of Manuka honey, two primary rating systems are commonly used: the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) and the MGO rating system. Both systems help consumers understand the antibacterial strength and overall effectiveness of the honey they are purchasing.

Unique Manuka Factor (UMF)

The UMF rating system was developed by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) in New Zealand to standardize the measurement of Manuka honey’s antibacterial activity. The UMF rating is an expression of the honey’s non-peroxide antibacterial potency, which is mainly attributed to its MGO content.

UMF ratings range from 5+ to 20+, with higher numbers indicating stronger antibacterial properties. The UMF rating also takes into account the presence of two other key compounds: Leptosperin, a chemical marker unique to Manuka honey, and Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the precursor to MGO. These compounds serve as quality markers to ensure the honey’s authenticity.

MGO Rating System

The MGO rating system is a more direct measurement of the honey’s antibacterial strength. It is based solely on the concentration of Methylglyoxal (MGO) present in the honey, measured in milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). Higher MGO ratings indicate a greater concentration of Methylglyoxal and, consequently, stronger antibacterial properties.

MGO ratings typically range from 30+ (low MGO content) to over 1000+ (very high MGO content). To provide context, Manuka honey with an MGO rating of 100+ contains 100 mg of Methylglyoxal per kg of honey. Since MGO is the primary compound responsible for Manuka honey’s antibacterial activity, the MGO rating system can be a useful indicator of the honey’s effectiveness.

Health Benefits of MGO in Manuka Honey

The high MGO content in Manuka honey is associated with a range of health benefits, many of which stem from its potent antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Some of the key health benefits attributed to MGO in Manuka honey include:

  1. Wound healing and skin care: Manuka honey has been used for centuries as a topical treatment for minor cuts, burns, and skin infections. Its antibacterial properties can help prevent infection and promote the healing process. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Manuka honey may aid in reducing inflammation and redness associated with skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
  2. Oral health: The antibacterial properties of MGO in Manuka honey can help combat oral bacteria responsible for tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. Using Manuka honey as a mouthwash or in toothpaste formulations may support better oral hygiene and overall dental health.
  3. Digestive health: Manuka honey has been shown to positively affect digestive health by reducing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. It may also help alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, and gastritis.
  4. Immune system support: The antibacterial and antiviral properties of Manuka honey can help support a healthy immune system. MGO’s ability to stimulate the production of cytokines, which are signaling molecules that coordinate immune responses, can enhance the body’s ability to fight off infections. Regular consumption of Manuka honey may also help prevent colds and flu, as well as soothe sore throats and ease coughs.
  5. Respiratory health: Manuka honey’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties can be beneficial for individuals suffering from respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, or sinus infections. It may help to alleviate congestion, reduce inflammation, and improve overall respiratory function.
  6. Antioxidant effects: Manuka honey is rich in various antioxidants, including phenolic compounds, which can help protect cells from oxidative stress and damage. A diet rich in antioxidants has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
  7. Energy booster: Manuka honey is a natural source of carbohydrates, providing a quick energy boost when consumed. Its low glycemic index (GI) means that it releases energy slowly, preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

Understanding MGO Concentrations and Their Effects

The concentration of MGO in Manuka honey can significantly impact its antibacterial potency and overall health benefits. Different MGO concentrations may be more suitable for specific purposes or desired effects. Here, we provide a general guideline to help you understand MGO concentrations and their potential effects:

  1. Low MGO concentration (30+ to 100+): Manuka honey with low MGO concentrations is still more potent than regular honey, but it may have limited antibacterial effects. This concentration range is suitable for daily consumption as a natural sweetener or for general health maintenance.
  2. Medium MGO concentration (100+ to 400+): Honey with medium MGO concentrations offers moderate antibacterial properties, making it suitable for general health support, such as improving digestive health or providing relief from sore throats and coughs.
  3. High MGO concentration (400+ to 800+): High MGO concentrations provide strong antibacterial activity, making this range suitable for more targeted health applications, such as wound care, combating oral bacteria, or supporting immune function during cold and flu season.
  4. Very high MGO concentration (800+ and above): Manuka honey with very high MGO concentrations offers the most potent antibacterial effects. This range is typically used for specific therapeutic purposes, such as treating skin conditions, severe infections

How to Choose the Right MGO Level for Your Needs

Selecting the appropriate MGO level in Manuka honey depends on your individual needs, health goals, and intended use. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose the right MGO concentration for your specific requirements:

  1. General health maintenance and daily consumption: If you’re looking to incorporate Manuka honey into your everyday diet for overall health and wellness, a lower MGO concentration (30+ to 100+) is suitable. This range still provides some antibacterial benefits and is ideal for use as a natural sweetener or to boost your immune system.
  2. Mild to moderate health concerns: For addressing mild to moderate health issues, such as digestive problems, sore throats, coughs, or skin care, choose a medium MGO concentration (100+ to 400+). This range offers more potent antibacterial properties and is better suited for targeted health support.
  3. Specific health applications or therapeutic purposes: If you’re seeking Manuka honey for more specific health applications or therapeutic purposes, opt for a higher MGO concentration (400+ to 800+). This range is ideal for wound care, combating oral bacteria, or supporting immune function during cold and flu season.
  4. Severe health concerns or infections: For severe health concerns, infections, or chronic conditions, Manuka honey with very high MGO concentrations (800+ and above) is recommended. This range offers the most potent antibacterial effects and is typically used for treating more serious issues such as skin conditions, severe infections, or stubborn bacterial strains.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of MGO

While MGO in Manuka honey is associated with numerous health benefits, it is essential to be aware of potential risks and side effects. Generally, Manuka honey is considered safe for consumption by most people; however, there are some situations where caution is advised:

  1. Allergies: Individuals with an allergy to bee products, pollen, or other components in honey should avoid consuming Manuka honey. Consuming honey in such cases can trigger allergic reactions, ranging from mild symptoms such as itching, swelling, or rash to more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis.
  2. Infants: Honey, including Manuka honey, should not be given to infants under one year of age due to the risk of infant botulism. This rare but serious condition is caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can produce harmful toxins in a baby’s immature digestive system.
  3. Diabetes: Although Manuka honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) compared to regular sugar, it can still impact blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should consume Manuka, honey, in moderation and monitor their blood sugar levels closely.
  4. High MGO concentrations: Manuka honey with very high MGO concentrations (800+ and above) should be used with caution, particularly when applied topically or consumed in large quantities. Excessive MGO intake might cause gastrointestinal discomforts, such as nausea, bloating, or diarrhoea. When using high MGO concentrations for topical applications, it’s essential to perform a patch test on a small area of the skin first to check for any potential adverse reactions.
  5. Interactions with medications: While Manuka honey is generally considered safe, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you take any medications, particularly those for diabetes or anticoagulants (blood thinners). Manuka honey may interact with these medications, altering their effectiveness.
Clinical Nutritionist | + posts

Cara Hayes is an experienced natural health practitioner with a Masters in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of Sydney. She has been writing for New Zealand Honey since 2020 and loves manuka in her morning tea.