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Honey, one of the most incredible non-perishable foods that can kill almost every type of bacteria. It could also be one sweet solution to the serious, ever-growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, researchers said.
Medical professionals sometimes use honey successfully as a topical dressing, but it could play a larger role in fighting infections, the researchers predicted. Their study was part of the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.
“The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance,” said study leader Susan M. Meschwitz, Ph.D. That is, it uses a combination of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols -- all of which actively kill bacterial cells, she explained. The osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.
Professor Rose Cooper from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff has looked at how honey interacts with three types of bacteria that commonly infest wounds: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Group A Streptococci and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Her group has found that honey can interfere with the growth of these bacteria in a variety of ways and suggests that honey is an attractive option for the treatment of drug-resistant wound infections.
Some bacteria have become resistant to every commonly prescribed antibacterial drug. But scientists found that raw Manuka honey, as it is known in New Zealand, or jelly bush honey, as it is known in Australia, killed every bacteria or pathogen it was tested on. Current findings on Manuka Honey are likely to have a major impact on modern medicine and could lead to a range of honey-based products to replace antibiotic and antiseptic creams.
"Most bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one antibiotic, and there is an urgent need for new ways to treat and control surface infections," Professor Dee Carter, from the University of Sydney's School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences.
In addition, several studies have shown that honey inhibits the formation of biofilms, or communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria, said Dr. Meschwitz. “Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics,” Meschwitz said. Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms. In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria’s pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.
Meschwitz, who is with Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., said another advantage of honey is that unlike conventional antibiotics, it doesn’t target the essential growth processes of bacteria. The problem with this type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, is that it results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.
Honey is effective because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants, she said. These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids. “Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics,” she added. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey, according to Meschwitz.
She said that her team also is finding that honey has antioxidant properties and is an effective antibacterial. “We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity,” she explained. “We have separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds. In our antibacterial studies, we have been testing honey’s activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others.”
This research may increase the clinical use of honey as doctors are faced with the threat of diminishingly effective antimicrobial options. "We need innovative and effective ways of controlling wound infections that are unlikely to contribute to increased antimicrobial resistance. We have already demonstrated that manuka honey is not likely to select for honey-resistant bacteria," said Professor Cooper. At present, most antimicrobial interventions for patients are with systemic antibiotics. "The use of a topical agent to eradicate bacteria from wounds is potentially cheaper and may well improve antibiotic therapy in the future. This will help reduce the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from colonised wounds to susceptible patients."
Keep in mind that there are well over 30 commercial producers of honey that have no traces of pollen and lack beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents which are removed due to pasteurization and processing. Most golden honey you see at your local grocery is dead and far from the health promoting powerhouse of its raw unpasteurized counterpart. Processed honey is not honey at all and if you desire any kind of health benefits, you must stick to the real stuff.
About the author Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.