Honey helps healing

Honey could be the new antibiotic, according to scientific research from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) presented Monday, 06 September 2004 at the Society for General Microbiology’s 155th Meeting at Trinity College Dublin.

By studying the way bacteria protect themselves from attack by forming slimy clumps, scientists have discovered that honey may be an effective new weapon in breaking up the microbes’ defences. The researchers from the School of Applied Sciences at UWIC looked at the dangerous infections that commonly get into wounds, such as Pseudomonas bacteria.

“If the bacteria can multiply enough to form a slimy mass called a biofilm – the sort of slime you get round a sink plughole for instance – they are much less sensitive to antibiotics and antiseptics,” says Ana Henriques of UWIC. “Doctors looking after badly injured and infected patients urgently need to remove these biofilms so that they can treat their wounds safely, and prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

The scientists studied six different strains of the bacteria, five of which came from injuries, and grew them in the laboratory to form biofilms, which are notoriously difficult to treat when they appear as hospital infections. Biofilms prevent healing in wounds and may lead to chronic ulcers.

The laboratory grown samples were treated with Manuka honey, then unattached bacteria were washed off and the remaining slime layer studied after different time periods. In every sample the biofilm was disrupted making it more susceptible to the treatment with conventional antibiotics.

“This suggests that simple honey could be a realistic alternative to treatment with antibiotics and antiseptics,” says Ana Henriques. “With the rise in hospital infections from resistant bacteria, we need more effective treatments quickly. Dressings impregnated with Manuka honey became available for prescription earlier this year, and for the first time we have shown that honey is effective against these tough biofilms as well as slowing isolated bacteria.”

The research could have a major impact in developing countries where honey is cheap and readily available, but modern pharmaceuticals are more difficult to obtain. Honey is easy to use and has no known harmful side effects on human health.

Rural District Nurses still remember using honey to treat difficult sores, anecdotal evidence exists of the use of honey in local hospitals in Cardiff in the 1970’s, and folk remedies recommended that warriors should pack battle wounds with honey and lay fresh spiders webs across the top to keep out dirt and help healing. This latest research suggests that honey may not have been such an old wives’ tale.

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