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The Healing Power of Honey: Who Knew?

February 15, 2012

I love those quirky, fun, sort of out-there articles in science, so I thought I’d blog about the about the healing power of honey.

According to scientists at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the U.K., Manuka honey can heal chronic (non-healing) wounds and kill Streptococcus pyrogenes, a bacterium normally found on the skin, but also associated with chronic wounds. The scientists published their work in a recent issue of the journal Microbiology.

The findings of the current study are good news, considering bacterial resistance to conventional antibiotics is on the rise. Although honey has long been acknowledged to have antibacterial properties, its mechanism of action is not fully understood by modern scientists. Until researchers gain a greater understanding of how honey kills S. pyrogenes and other bacteria that cause wounds to persist, they cannot fully exploit its antimicrobial properties.

The Welsh team found that Manuka honey, derived from nectar collected by bees foraging on the manuka tree in Australia and New Zealand, prevents the formation of clumps of S. pyrogenes bacteria in petri dishes in the lab and the binding of S. pyrogenes to the fibronectin in wound tissue.

“Molecules on the surface of the bacteria latch onto human fibronectin, anchoring the bacteria to the cell. This allows infection to proceed and biofilms to develop,” Sarah Maddocks, an associate lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University School of Health Sciences and lead author of the study explained in a statement. “We found that honey reduced the expression of these bacterial surface proteins, inhibiting binding to human fibronectin, therefore making biofilm formation less likely.”

The team in Dr. Maddocks’s lab continues to look at the antibacterial properties of honey against other bacteria associated with chronic wounds, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Manuka honey has been proven effective at eradicating these bacteria.

“There is an urgent need to find innovative and effective ways of controlling wound infections that are unlikely to contribute to increased antimicrobial resistance. No incidences of honey-resistant bacteria have been reported to date, or seem likely,” Maddocks said. She went on to say that topical antibacterial agents are less expensive than systemic antibiotics, and could be used concomitantly with systemic antibiotics in the future. To put this in perspective, chronic wounds account for almost 4% of health care expenses in the developed world, so the development of new topical antibiotics is important.

And FYI…my friend Sue hurt her pinky in a door, and put honey on it. She claims it is a total miracle worker, and her pinky is almost healed!

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