Not only is honey a tasty treat for those of us with a sweet tooth, it also contains astonishing properties. These properties speed up the healing process of many types of wounds, even those infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Honey, part of the ancient Egyptians’ pharmacopoeia several thousand years ago, is being rediscovered by health professionals faced with an increasing number of powerful microbes impervious to today’s antibiotics. A honey-based sterilized preparation designed for the treatment of wounds has been approved by the European Union and is currently available in Australia and New Zealand.
Various mechanisms explain the efficacy of honey. First of all, the antimicrobial activity happens by osmosis (fluid separation). As there are greater concentrations of sugar in honey compared to the surrounding tissues and bacteria, it causes them to empty their liquid contents. The osmotic effect creates a less sticky humid area between the bandage and the wound, making it much easier to change the bandages. Consequently, this procedure becomes less painful for the patient, without damaging the newly developed layers of skin.
Furthermore, an enzyme introduced by bees during the production of honey continually synthesizes small quantities of hydrogen peroxide that are sufficient to kill bacteria.
Phytochemical composites contained in the nectar of certain flowers foraged by bees can also contribute to the bactericide action of honey. This is why the floral source of honey is so significant. Some honeys, particularly those from two species of small trees indigenous to New Zealand and Australia, can be up to a 100 times more effective against micro-organisms than other honeys because their phytochemical composite contents are much higher.
Honey also has other properties that make it very interesting. Notably, it reduces oedema and tissue inflammation, facilitates the rejection and dislodging of dead tissues, reduces odours emanating from some infected wounds, and is less costly than contemporary products used in the treatment of wounds.
It is strongly advised not to apply store bought honey on a wound or a burn as it can occasionally contain spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, responsible for botulism, a very serious type of intoxication. As it is not yet available in Canada, the sterilized honey-based preparation is rarely used in Quebec. A large research study, with participating medical centres from many countries, has been set in motion to compare the efficacy of honey to the conventional wound treatments currently used. Who knows, maybe honey will soon grace the shelves of our pharmacies!