The medicinal benefits of honey

 10 ways honey works medically

Manuka honey in jars

Manuka honey in jars

Here's a fun fact I have just read: That the root of the word medicine is medu which also means mead, that lovely honey drink. Not sure quite how true that is, I can't follow the links far enough back on the interwebs, but wouldn't that be a cool connection?

Because, the thing is, honey is an amazing medicine, and has been for millennia. Manuka honey is particularly special, but manuka honey has only been around for a century and a half. Other honey has lots of medicinal benefits too.

And boy do we need them! Penicillin was discovered in 1928, and it is the first of the modern antibiotics. There have been quite a few other types of antibiotics discovered/created since. But the problem with antibiotics is that we have been over-using them, and bacteria have built up resistance. A particular problem is MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) which is now quite an issue in our hospitals. So we have effectively been selectively breeding virulent bacteria - think Darwin's survival of the fittest.

The other problem with antibiotics is that they use a single mechanism for eliminating microbes (the science got a bit dense here, so I won't repeat it).

But...honey has been used for treatment for forever. And it works in 10 different ways, all at the same time.

Osmotic action

Honey has high sugar content.

Sugar pulls water out of the surrounding environment.

This means that if you put it on bacteria, the bacteria will become dehydrated, and not have ideal conditions to thrive.

High acidity

Honey is acid - around 3.2 to 4.5 pH depending on type of honey.

These conditions stop the microbial growth of pathogenic bacteria. And provide just the right environment for wounds to heal.

Glucose Oxidase

This is one of those enzymes that bees add to honey. See last week's post for more on bee enzymes.

If you add water to glucose oxidase it becomes gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Strong hydrogen peroxide used to be used to treat bacterial infections, but its use was stopped because it damaged body tissues. But honey has weak hydrogen peroxide, that still works on wounds and such.

Non-peroxide activity

This one is the special manuka effect. No other honey does this.

Manuka honey has methylgloxal (MGO), which produces a heat stable antibacterial activity. There is more on this in this post.

Hydrogen peroxide wears off after a time, but the MGO effect does not. And our bodies make a substance called catalase that deactivates hydrogen peroxide. But MGO works in the presence of catalase. And glucose oxidase (which creates hydrogen peroxide) can be destroyed by excessive heat and light, often applied in the processing of honey, and storage in clear packaging.

Moist wound environment

Honey helps tissues heal faster. 

Most antibiotics delay healing of tissues. But antibacterial honey supports the formation of new tissue (more complicated science here...)

Debridement

OK, this one makes me queasy, so a brief overview only:

Debridement is the removal of dead, damaged or infected tissue. Honey helps, a LOT! Otherwise this is a ghastly manual procedure. You can imagine, I'm moving on to the next one....

Smelly wounds

Deep wounds smell terrible (apparently, I don't actually want first hand experience).

Honey works in magic ways to stop noxious odours that come from the wounds. This one is a Big Deal for patients, the horribleness of smelly wounds is quite dire, psychologically, it seems.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Honey (all types) soothes and relieves inflammation.

Which aids healing. And makes things feel better.

Anti-fungal

Some honeys inhibit fungal growth, especially the candida bunch.

Antioxidants

Honey is full of antioxidants. Which we all know promotes good health and longevity.

 

I'm not too great on anything too graphic in the medical sense, but if you would like all the gory or medical details, here are 2 great books to read:

Two Million Blossoms, Discovering the Medicinal Benefits of Honey by Kirsten Traynor from Amazon

Manuka, the biography of an extraordinary Honey by Cliff van Eaton from Exisle Publishing, also from others.