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Medicinal Honey - The News Just Keeps Getting Sweeter

Posted Oct 17 2008 9:14pm

Have you ever noticed that the honey in your cupboard never goes bad? Honey has been used externally to treat burns and wounds for thousands of years, from Ancient Egypt though World War II. It fell out of favor in recent decades when antibiotic drugs became widely available. Now the appeal has come full circle, as some bacteria have become resistant to almost all current antibiotics.

When honey is used as a dressing for wounds, infection clears quickly, even as swelling, inflammation, and pain are reduced. The disturbing odor produced by some wounds is also alleviated. With honey, the healing process itself also advances much more satisfactorily. Necrotic (dead) tissue sloughs off, and regeneration of tissue and skin can resume. Rather than causing tissue damage like traditional topical antiseptics, honey actually promotes healing and tissue regeneration. It provides nutrients to the growing tissue, including amino acids, vitamins, trace elements and highly usable sugars. Honey also pulls lymph into the area, which provides even more nutrition to the tissues, and helps flush dirt and other contaminants from deep in the wound. This flow of lymph also provides a lubricant layer, allowing honey dressings to be removed without pain or tearing of the wound.

Honey’s ability to heal may be partly due to its acidity. Also, white blood cells called leucocytes use the glucose in honey to produce hydrogen peroxide, an important component of the antibacterial effect. Honey also provides a base for the process of glycolysis, which provides energy to special immune cells called macrophages. It contains high levels of vitamin C, which is needed to synthesize collagen. Meanwhile, honey’s physical properties provide a barrier against external infections, while keeping the wound moist.

Cost savings can be substantial in a clinical setting. As wounds heal faster, and with fewer complications, hospitalization times are cut. So is the need for surgery and anesthesia to remove dying tissue and grafting on of new skin. The use of antibiotics may also be curtailed.

Honey also makes an excellent first-aid dressing when more sophisticated treatment is not readily available. Its application can prevent infection of a wound until it can be properly treated. In an emergency, it can be applied to burns that would otherwise have to be cooled with contaminated water, bringing the risk of serious infection of the damaged tissue. The honey provides immediate relief as an anti-inflammatory, fights any local bacteria, and helps prevent exposure to additional infection.

A modern standardized version, Antibacterial Medical Honey™ has been shown in clinical and In Vitro research to be effective against over 200 strains of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains. The product is made in Australia by Medihoney.

Medical honey can be used for both chronic and acute wounds, including deep, necrotic, infected and surgical wounds. It can also be applied to superficial burns. The natural product provides an antibacterial barrier, reducing the risk of infection while providing a moist environment for the wound. It has a debriding action that helps remove necrotic tissue and quickly removes the malodor that accompanies many chronic wounds.

Years of experience with Medihoney have produced mostly positive results. Even chronic wounds infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotic therapies have healed within a few weeks. It is believed that honey treatments are unlikely to cause any bacterial resistance, unlike traditional antibiotics.

Dr Kai Sofka, a wound specialist at the BonnUniversityHospital ’s Children’s Clinic, where trials of Medihoney have been conducted, has seen the results. He reports that dead tissue in wounds was rejected faster and that the wounds healed more rapidly when using the honey. Trials of the product also found that the dressings were less painful to change, because they were easier to remove. “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,” according to Dr. Softka.

Although over twenty hospitals in Germany use honey to treat wounds, and successes have been plentiful, there are not many good clinical studies documenting its effectiveness. To address this, Dr. Arne Simon, an Oncology specialist with the Bonn University Children’s clinic is leading an international group in a study of 150 patients. The study will compare the use of honey against conventional antibiotic treatment.

Dr. Simon has already seen excellent results in treating antibiotic resistant wound infections in children with Leukemia. These patients already have a weakened immune system from the disease. Worse, chemotherapy further impairs the healing process of wounds. “Normally a skin injury heals in a week but with our children it often takes a month or more,” he says.

Medihoney is made up of two different honeys: one of these helps produce higher levels of hydrogen peroxide at the wound site. The other comes from the small Leptospermum tree. Honey from these trees has particularly strong antibacterial activity, possibly due to the phenol-like substances that are found in it.

Non-healing lesions are a common and serious problem for many types of patients – including diabetics and the bed-ridden. It will be interesting to see if honey products can help provide a solution for these patients as well as others. Meanwhile, antibiotics are getting support from an ancient ally in the ever more challenging battle against infection.

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