Manuka honey is once again being hailed as a potentially valuable weapon in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Many of us will be familiar with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often called staph, which about a third of us carry around harmlessly on our skin or up our noses. Mostly, they're not a problem, but if they get into a break in the skin they can lead to unsightly infections such as boils, or potentially life-threatening infections of the bones, lungs, joints, heart or bloodstream. For decades, doctors have treated staph infections with antibiotics, but now these have been overused to the extent that some types of staph bacteria have built up a resistance, and no longer respond to the antibiotics. These are called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, and they’re often contracted in hospitals, for example when bacteria enter the body via a surgical wound.
Concerned about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, pharmacologists at Cardiff University in Wales decided to investigate whether honey, which is currently used as a wound treatment, might also be effective in treating MRSA infections. Having gathered honeys from all over the UK, they placed a drop of each into dishes containing MRSA, and discovered that at least one wiped out a large zone of bacteria. “Honey was used to treat wounds in Egypt as early as 1500 BC,” they noted. “We’ve gone full circle, back to realising how useful and important it is.” Also aware that surgical site infections (SSIs) are a major issue in modern healthcare, a research group in Massachusetts, USA, took the research one step further, investigating a new method of delivering Manuka honey effectively into the skin by forming it into microneedles. “Given the health and economic burden attributable, in particular, to SSIs caused by antimicrobial-resistant organisms such as MRSA, there is a critical need for the development of novel treatment options that can address resistant organisms,” they said.
They chose Manuka honey over other honeys because of its proven antimicrobial activity. “Honeys have natural antimicrobial, immuno-stimulant and wound healing properties due to a number of factors,” their report stated. “MGO is one of the major antibacterial components in honey and, while MGO is present in most honeys in small quantities, it is present at the highest concentrations in Manuka honey, as it is derived from dihydroxyacetone, which is found in high concentrations in the nectar of Manuka flowers. “One of the reasons that Manuka honey is thought to be such a potent antimicrobial agent as compared to other honeys is because the main type of antibacterial activity in other honeys is peroxidase-based, which is thought to be neutralized by catalases present in blood, serum and wound tissues, whereas MGO remains active.”
The researchers noted that there is currently no evidence of antibiotic resistance to Manuka honey. “Manuka honey has been used in medicine for centuries and the first honey-based product for wound dressings was approved by the FDA in 2007,” they observed. “Manuka honey has traditionally been used as a holistic treatment for everything from topical wounds, sore throats, and as an adjunct to cancer treatment. Although once considered ‘alternative’, the many unique medicinal properties of Manuka honey have captured the attention of modern medicine. The particular use of honey in the treatment of infected and non-healing wounds is particularly interesting; especially when honey resistance training studies demonstrate that, at certain concentrations, bacteria do not develop resistance and are incapable of proliferating.” The study’s conclusions were published in Nature in 2020. “Manuka honey microneedles demonstrated excellent bactericidal activity against MRSA,” the researchers concluded. “This data supports the need for further exploration of this new approach in a wound-healing model and opens the door for the future use of Manuka honey.”
Source: Mayo Clinic, Nature, InterCardiff
Disclaimer: This article is designed to inform and not to provide a direction on medication. The research outlined is in its infancy. Bee products can cause a variety of reactions so please consult your doctor before using any bee or honey products. Honey should not be given to babies under the age of one.