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28 July 2006
Honey More Effective Than Antibiotics

Doctors in Europe are finding that honey helps the treatment of some wounds better than modern antibiotics. Ongoing tests at the University of Bonn have been recording high levels of effectiveness with what is known as "medihoney". The researchers say that even chronic wounds infected with multi-resistant bacteria - usually a problem for all but the newest antibiotics - can often be healed within a few weeks using honey.

The curative properties of honey have long been recognized, beginning with the Egyptians thousands of years ago, and more recently in the last two world wars, where poultices with honey were used to assist the healing process in soldiers' wounds. More recently however, this valuable household remedy seems to have been forgotten, in favor of more modern antibiotics. But antibiotic resistance could see a resurgence in the medical use of honey. "In hospitals today we are faced with germs which are resistant to almost all the current anti-biotics," Dr. Arne Simon explained. "As a result, the medical use of honey is becoming attractive again for the treatment of wounds."

Dr. Simon works in the cancer ward of the Bonn University Children's Clinic, where young patients are treated with drugs (known as cytostatics) that not only slow down the reproduction of cancer cells, but also impair the healing process of wounds. "Normally a skin injury heals in a week, with our children it often takes a month or more," he said. "Moreover, children with leukemia have a weakened immune system. If a germ enters their bloodstream via a wound, the result may be a fatal case of blood poisoning."

To counter this threat to their patients, Dr. Simon and other Bonn pediatricians have been pioneering the use of medihoney in treating wounds and their success is astonishing. "Dead tissue is rejected faster, and the wounds heal more rapidly," said Kai Sofka, a wound specialist at the University Children's Clinic. "What is more, changing dressings is less painful, since the poultices are easier to remove without damaging the newly formed layers of skin. Even wounds which consistently refused to heal for years can, in our experience, be brought under control with medihoney - and this frequently happens within a few weeks," Sofka added.

Medihoney can even put paid to multi-resistant germs such as MRSA, and in this respect, say the researchers, medihoney is comparable to the antibiotic mupirocin, currently the MRSA antibiotic of choice. In fact, research from Australia showed that medihoney was even superior to its pharmaceutical rival, as the bacteria did not develop any resistance to the natural product during the course of treatment.

Why does honey have this antiseptic effect? It seems that when producing honey, bees add an enzyme called glucose-oxidase, which creates small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, an effective antiseptic, in the sugar of the honey. Medihoney comes in two different flavors: one which forms a comparatively large amount of hydrogen peroxide, and another known as "lepto-spermum honey". Leptospermum is a species of tree which occurs in New Zealand and Australia and honey from these trees has a particularly strong anti-bacterial effect. "It is not yet known exactly why this is," Dr. Simon pondered. "Probably it is a mix of phenol-type substances which come from the plant and make life particularly difficult for the bacteria in the wound."

Source: University of Bonn

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