Recently I learned that honey has been holding its own against more expensive pharmaceutical antibiotics in clinical trials. Not only did honey speed healing and reduce scarring, but it was shown to be effective against "superbug" infections, those for which traditional antibiotics are useless (e.g. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant enterococci). It can even heal wounds in people who are immunocompromised (whose wounds heal poorly), such as those undergoing cancer treatment.
An article in The Economist reported:
"One patient, whose wounds had become infected by the potentially fatal strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin (MRSA), and who failed to respond to other drugs, was free of this superbug within 48 hours of receiving the honey treatment."
- When bees make honey, they secrete an enzyme into it (glucose oxidase). This enzyme produces hydrogen peroxide (glucose oxidase reduces O2 to H2O2) at low levels and continually. These low levels won't destroy healthy tissue as topical applications of H2O2 can, and their continual production reduces need for frequent application. Hydrogen peroxide acts as an antimicrobial agent, slowing bacterial growth.
- Other antimicrobial components have been found in honey (possibly the flavonoids caffeic acid and ferulic acid). Some honeys have a stronger antibacterial effect, notably honey from bees collecting nectar from certain bushes (manuka, jellybush) growing in Australia and New Zealand.
- Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution with high osmotic potential; it is hypertonic relative to bacterial cells, and relative to edemous tissue that accompanies infection. That means water will move out of a bacterium and into the honey, reducing the bacterium's ability to reproduce or destroying it altogether. It also means honey can reduce painful swelling.
- Honey provides a physical barrier to further infection. Its consistency also eases wound undressing. Both of these qualities reduce scarring.
Wound Care With Antibacterial Honey (Medihoney)* In Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Supportive Care In Cancer, 2006.
Below are photos of one of Dr. Simon's patients whose wound was treated with honey:
The wound was caused by a catheter port:
"Even in a patient suffering from a relapse of acute Lymphatic leukemia subjected to high level immunosuppression lasting for months, a deep surgical site infection of a port pocket healed completely without further complications."
* Medihoney is a formulation approved for use as a medicine in Europe. It consists of a mixture of honeys mostly from hives in Australia and New Zealand. The honey is not heat-treated but is sterilized with gamma-radiation to inactivate Clostridium spores which may be present. Other commercial, unprocessed, non-pasteurized, and non-irradiated honeys have also proven effective in studies.1
An excellent website devoted to the wound healing properties of honey can be found at the Honey Research Unit of the University of Waikato, Department of Biological Sciences, in New Zealand.
Honey is proving itself as a safe, inexpensive, and effective treatment for skin problems. Let's get that bee Colony Collapse Disorder resolved pronto!