In April 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first report on the issue of antibiotic resistance. The report revealed that resistance to common bacteria has reached “alarming” levels in many parts of the world with some areas already out of treatment options for common infections. They found for instance that resistance to carbapenem antibiotics used to treat Kleibsella pneumonia, the bacteria that causes pneumonia, has spread to all parts of the globe. The report found that overuse and incorrect use of antibiotics has been one of the main drivers of antibiotic resistance developing. It is one thing to recognise the problem however, and another to have a solution but the good news is that a new study suggests one of the answers may be buzzing around your Garden as you read this.

Bees perform a vital pollinating function that maintains food crops but they also produce many substances that can heal humans and the new study suggests they may also provide antibiotics that will answer antibiotic resistance.

Honey from bees has been used to treat wounds for thousands of years. What we know about the honey that you buy in store though is that it has been sterilised and does not contain the bacteria that fresh honey contains. In fresh honey you get a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria that are present in the digestive tract of the bees.

In this study the researchers used fresh honey enriched with these 13 bacteria against MRSA (methycillin resistant Staphyloccus aureus), VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus), and other pathogens that commonly cause serious infections in the hospital setting. In the laboratory the bee bacteria were effective against all of the organisms. Although studies have not been done in humans, the researchers did do tests on horses with persistent wounds and found that again the bee bacteria were effective.

The strength of live bee bacteria is that they produce substances to combat whatever organisms are present whereas antibiotics are one substance and are only effective against a narrow spectrum of bacteria.

These effects could be especially useful in developing countries where fresh honey is readily available. Store-bought honey probably won’t give these effects but it seems the future of antibiotics may be buzzing around in the bellies of bees.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

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

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