Did You Know?
By D.P. Agrawal

Question: Did you know that honey has been found effective in healing festering wounds?

Answer. Honey has been used in Indian and Oriental traditional medicine since antiquity to heal wounds. Recent research (Cooper et al 2002) has shown that honey can stop even bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

The records of ancient people covering wounds in honey go back to ancient India and Egypt. Honey could help to treat wounds that refuse to heal. It was generally believed that honey's syrupy consistency kept air out of wounds, and that its high sugar content slowed bacterial growth. But recent research shows that honey must also have other properties that kill bacteria.

Rose Cooper, a microbiologist at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, and her colleagues have shown that compared with an artificial honey solution of the same thickness and sugar concentration, natural honey kills bacteria three times more effectively, though they are not yet sure what the active ingredients are. It is however known that some types of honey, when diluted, form hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacteria and can be used to clean wounds. But Cooper's team rules out the possibility that its only hydrogen peroxide that helps healing.

Cooper et al found that both pasture honey, which generates hydrogen peroxide, and manuka honey, which does not, stop bacteria from growing in the lab. They collected microbes from wounds and hospital surfaces and used strains of Staphlyococcus and Enterococcus that can withstand even the 'last resort' antibiotics, such as methicillin and vancomycin. They suggest that honey may be antimicrobial because of enzymes secreted by the bees that make it; alternatively, its activity could be due to its acidity or to chemicals from the original plant nectar.

Cooper says, "It's a traditional remedy that has been overlooked. To reintroduce it, we must have evidence to support its antibacterial and healing properties." Andrea Nelson, a nurse researcher who has worked on chronic wound healing at the University of York, UK, supports her. Nelson says that to convince skeptical doctors, clinical trials must be carried out applying honey to patients' wounds. Treating infected wounds in the hospitals has become a problem, as prolonged use of antibiotics can result in the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria.

Cooper et al are still working on the effects of honey on wounds and warn that they are not suggesting people to rush to the store to get a bottle of honey to treat the wounds, though some companies are already making sterilized tubes of honey and honey-impregnated bandages for treating wounds.

Reference
Cooper, R. A., Molan, P. C. & Harding, K. G. The sensitivity to honey of Gram-positive cocci of clinical significance isolated from wounds. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 93, 857 - 863, (2002).

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