Honey heals

Honey is a multipurpose thing. For the bees who make it honey is a food and humans too are not averse to dolloping it onto a piece of toast. The culinary aspects of honey though are just the beginning; Hindus believe honey to be one of the five elixirs of immortality, in Judaism it is a symbol of the new year, and it is an integral part of the Buddhist festival celebrating Buddha’s retreat into the wilderness. Honey can also be used as part of a massage and although it has been superseded by pharmaceutical antiobiotics, it has a long history as a wound healing agent. It is this last quality that has been brought back to light by a new study.

Many cultures around the world have used honey as a wound healer across the centuries. While all honeys have some antibiotic and healing properties, Manuka honey is a type of honey that is particularly well studied. Manuka honey comes from the manuka tree which grows in New Zealand and to a lesser extent in Australia. It is related to the Australia tea tree.

Manuka honey has been reported to be effective against more than 80 species of bacteria and honey of all types has qualities that make it useful in promoting wound healing.

One problematic area of wound treatment is regarding wounds that become infected with the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. These wounds often fail to respond to existing treatments largely because the S. pyogenes bacteria secrete a biofilm which is difficult for antibiotics to penetrate. That is why researchers decided to test manuka honey on these troublesome bacteria.

They found that manuka honey not only prevented the start of biofilm development, it also reduced established biofilms grown in the laboratory and killed up to 85 per cent of the bacteria within two hours.

The theory goes that the honey stops the bacteria anchoring to cells by blocking their attachment to a human molecule called fibronectin. Without being anchored the bacteria cannot produce their biofilm and so are vulnerable to the antibiotic qualities of the honey.

Chronic wounds are estimated to account for around four per cent of all health care expenses in the developed world. A simple thing like honey could therefore make big differences, if used appropriately, to our straining health budgets.

In light of all this is is hard to argue with those medical philosophers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus who made the insightful medical observation, “honey, honey, how you thrill me.”

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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