As antibiotic resistance becomes an increasing issue, researchers are busy investigating natural alternatives to fight deadly infections. Researchers in Liverpool for example, investigated the effects of using honey as an antibacterial agent for post-operative wound care in the fight against MRSA. Patients that had honey applied to their wounds had 36% fewer incidences of infection, and spent around 25% less time in the hospital compared to those who were not administered honey.
Lead researcher, Dr. Val Robson, explained that honey has antibacterial properties because of its high sugar content, presence of hydrogen peroxide, and low water content. Robson has since dubbed the honey utilized in this study “Medihoney.”
One important fact to mention is that the honey utilized in this study was not simply what you would find at a chain supermarket, because such products are essentially sugary syrups with little nutritional value or use. Raw honey is the “bee penicillin” that research so far suggests can even have the power to fight MRSA. The name “bee penicillin” refers to the powerful substance propolis, which appears to be the ingredient that is most effective in fighting MRSA. Through the processes of pasteurization and ultrafiltration, honey is stripped of many of the chemicals and compounds that make it healthy and nutritious. Identifying such honey can typically be done by observing the color and overall appearance, which is typically clear or very translucent.
It is also important to mention that the color of honey can vary significantly, as it is based on the flowers bees utilize in order to obtain the ingredients necessary to produce honey. As a general rule of thumb, remember that the darker the honey, the greater the amount of antioxidants. Polyphenols, an antioxidant contained in raw honey, has been linked to several beneficial mechanisms, which include lowering cholesterol, combating heart disease, and reducing the risk of cancer.
Researchers in New Zealand found that honey is also effective in reducing post-operative scarring. This is because peeling back a dressing that is covered in honey does not disturb the new tissue underneath. Similar to the study in Liverpool, it was also found that patients who had honey applied to their MRSA-infected wounds became sterile and healed significantly more rapidly than the traditional MRSA-inflicted patient, and were thus discharged weeks earlier.
Honey also has other uses in the fight against antibiotic resistance, as it is a “prebiotic” that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Researchers at Sweden’s University of Lund found that eating honey not only aids in preventing stomach upset, but also in the prevention of stomach ulcers, as it combats ulcer-triggering H. pylori. Honey has also been found to be effective in fighting E. coli, which is significant based on the new enzyme that has been produced in several strains of E. coli and other gram-negative bacteria. This enzyme, known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDL), is basically a defense mechanism to promote the survival of the bacteria in which it is found.
Manuka honey and Jelly Bush honey were the specific types of honey used in both the Liverpool and New Zealand studies. Such variations of honey have been shown to have longer-lasting antibacterial properties, and are based on the flora available to the bees that produce each respective kind. While more research is necessary to further understand the antibacterial use of honey, these studies demonstrate that natural alternatives may be of significant use in the fight against MRSA and other increasingly troublesome bacterial infections. Researchers warn that until further research is done, it is important to use caution when treating the wounds of babies, children, and those with compromised immune systems. Robson and other researchers are exploring opportunities to conduct a more large-scale trial.