Manuka Oil has Many Proclaimed Benefits but is there Clinical Evidence Supporting These Claims?
Manuka oil is an essential oil closely related to the more generally known Australian tea tree oil. It is also referred to as red manuka or, erroneously, as tea tree oil. But what exactly are its benefits? And is there any scientific proof? This post is about manuka oil benefits, possible side effects, and clinical proof and studies.
Essential Oil from the Manuka Tree
Manuka oil is a potent type of natural essential oil which is derived from the leaves and stems of New Zealand’s manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium). The manuka bush, which is familiar to the eucalyptus, has very oil-rich leaves. This oil is extracted by the process of steam distillation and is used in herbal medicines, cosmetics, hygiene and aromatherapy products. Furthermore, pure manuka oil is used for several purposes because of its proclaimed health benefits. Some benefits are proven by clinical studies. (Research on the action of manuka oil has shown activity against some bacteria and fungi). Other benefits only have anecdotal support behind them.
Manuka Oil Benefits
Manuka oil contains compounds that are said to be; anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti histaminic, antiviral, and work as a muscle relaxant. Because of these properties the oil is used to combat skin conditions such as athletes foot, toenail fungus, yeast infections, ringworm, cold sores, burns, rashes, dandruff, and itch from, for example, insect bites and stings. It is also used as lice treatment and to offer relief from joint aches, colds by reducing sneezing, and even stress. The antibacterial properties of manuka oil are said to help combating foot and body odor. Even far more severe conditions such as infections with the MRSA bug seem to benefit from manuka oil treatment.
Does Manuka Oil Really Have That Many Benefits?
Although positive reviews on using manuka oil for treating skin ailments are abundant there is only little clinical evidence demonstrating its efficacy. Limited studies on the efficacy of manuka oil remedies have been conducted. One of the few proven benefits is that it has a relaxing effect on muscles and nerves. It also has proven antimicrobial properties and minor anti-fungal effects mostly taken advantage of in topical use. More research in the form of large randomized clinical trials has to be done on its proclaimed digestive benefits. /
Manuka Massage Oil
Another popular application is to use it as massage oil. It is supposed to assist the natural immune response and helps soothe muscles, nerves, and joints. Because studies show it has mild sedative and relaxing (anti-anxiety) effects its use as an aromatherapy oil is growing.
Renowned aromatherapist, Ruth von Braunschweig, from Germany states manuka oil offers stress relief especially for people with sensitive nervous systems and those who are prone to anxiety and stress. The fact that these conditions often manifest themselves in allergic reactions and other skin ailments links its use back to dermal benefits. Manuka oil, according to the aromatherapist, strengthens the psyche and stabilizes the skin at the same time. It relaxes and soothes the skin nerves, activates cells, and regenerates outer skin layers making it more resilient.
Manuka, Medicinal Plant used by the Maori
Manuka is the Maori name given to this plant. The Maori knew of the benefits and used the bark, leaves, and flowers for medicinal purposes such as wound dressings and for digestive relief. European settlers under command of Captain Cook called it the tea tree because they used its leaves for brewing tea to treat vitamin C deficiency (scurvy)
The manuka tree’s medicinal properties were already known by the Maori who have used its leaves, bark, and sap oil as medicines for almost a millennium. According to their folk medicine the manuka tree offered remedies for colds, fevers, flu, dysentery, skin and stomach ailments such as diarrhea. It also was used as a diuretic remedy. The leaves and bark were boiled in water after which it was rubbed on stiff joints and muscles. Tea of the leaves was used to provide relief in case of digestive ailments and it was also inhaled for colds, hay fever sinusitis, and even bronchitis and asthma.
Manuka Oil Studies
As said before there are limited clinical trials on manuka oil’s effectiveness. It has selective antibacterial activity against gram positive organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause of staph infections) and Micrococcus luteus.
The pharmacological action of manuka oil for treating diarrhea, colds, and inflammation was studied on a field-stimulated guinea pig ileum. Manuka oil induced a muscle relaxing (spasmolytic) effect.
A sedating and potentially anxiolytic effect (drug used for the treatment of symptoms of anxiety) was recorded in a locomotion study with rats.
In the following study researchers investigated the antibacterial effects of essential oils on several oral bacteria. They tested manuka oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, lavandula oil, and romarinus oil and determined their minimum repressive concentration and minimum bactericidal concentration. The essential oils inhibited the growth of the bacteria tested, manuka oil being the most effective.
After examining the small amount of available reports on studies and clinical trials it can only be concluded that manuka oil might, potentially, have many health benefits but more research has to be done.