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STUDY: Honey prevents bacterial growth
JOURNAL: Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing (2002;29:295–300).
ABSTRACT: Topical application of honey is beneficial in the treatment of wounds and burns.
COMMENTARY: Honey is a highly concentrated sugar solution produced by honey bees, primarily from the nectar of plants. It is composed of carbohydrates (sugars), water, enzymes, amino acids, pigments, pollen, wax, and other trace constituents from both bees and plants.
Honey has been used in the treatment of burns and wounds for many centuries, with documents describing this use dating back to 1700 BC.
A number of properties inherent to honey might contribute to its ability to fight infection and promote healing. Its high sugar content allows it to draw infection and fluid from wounds by a process called “osmosis.”
Honey prevents bacterial growth through its acidic pH and through the work of an enzyme that produces small amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Its ability to keep the area around a wound moist and protected promotes fast healing and prevents scarring.
Honeys also contain components from the specific plants used by the bees in their production, and it is speculated that some of these components might further add to the antibacterial and wound-healing effects of certain honeys.
The process of pasteurization, used to sterilize commercial honeys, destroys the enzyme involved in the production of hydrogen peroxide, rendering these honeys less antibacterial. Raw honeys maintain their enzymes, and honeys produced for therapeutic use are sterilized through an irradiation process that does not damage their constituents.
There are currently two therapeutic honeys available: Medihoney of Australia and Active Manuka Honey of New Zealand. Both are derived from bees using the flowers of tea trees (Leptospermum spp.) as their source.
A number of studies have confirmed the antibacterial effects of honey in test tubes. One study found that different honeys had different levels of activity against specific bacteria. Studies on humans have reported that honey used as a wound dressing reduced infection, inflammation, pain, and odor, and promoted easy removal of dead tissue and rapid healing with little scarring.
Fifty-nine people with chronic wounds and ulcers participated in one preliminary study described in this review. The group included people with diabetic ulcers, burns, traumatic ulcers, gangrene, and other types of wounds. All had been treated with commercial wound dressings and antibiotics for periods of between one month and two years without results.
Although 51 of the 59 wounds had been infected prior to honey treatment, all were free of infection within one week of starting honey dressing applications. In addition, inflammation and odor were markedly reduced and healing rapidly ensued.