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Using honey for health

Manuka honey is made by bees that feed on the flowers of the manuka bush (or tea tree) – also known as Leptospermum scoparium – which is native to New Zealand and Australia.

Manuka honey is made by bees that feed on the flowers of the manuka bush (or tea tree) – also known as Leptospermum scoparium – which is native to New Zealand and Australia.

Honey has been known, and used, as a health-giving food for centuries.

Manuka honey could be the major breakthrough needed to help hospitals win the battle against antibiotic-resistant ‘super bugs’
- Kathryn Borg

It is on a par with aloe vera in its centuries-old traditions but for different reasons. It is said that if you regularly take local honey it will help with allergies such as hay fever, usually caused by local plants, trees or shrubs.

Products from the bee hive, such as propolis, royal jelly and bee pollen are all used regularly for various conditions. The bee hive is an amazing environment, and its products have long been seen as having health-giving properties.

A particular honey which has become commercially popular in recent years is manuka. Sales have gone through the roof due to its reputation as a remedy for use at home for all sorts of conditions.

The latest research has revealed it could be the major breakthrough needed to help hospitals win the battle against antibiotic-resistant ‘super bugs’, the most common being MRSA.

Research has been carried out by a team of scientists at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, where Rose Cooper and her team have been studying how manuka honey interacts with the three types of bacteria that commonly infect wounds.

At the spring conference this year for the Society for General Microbiology, which was held in the UK, Prof. Cooper reported that the honey interferes with bacterial growth in a number of important ways and may even be able to reverse resistance to antibiotics.

In this regard, manuka honey was found to prevent the attachment of bacteria to tissues, an essential step in the infective process. It also blocks the formation of biofilms which protect bacteria against antibiotics and allow them to cause chronic, persistent infections.

Prof. Cooper was quoted as saying: “This indicates that existing antibiotics may be more effective against drug-resistant infections if used in combination with manuka honey.”

Further evidence also suggested that the honey has real potential as a natural alternative to antibiotics for fighting general infections. It seems some hospitals have been using dressings impregnated with the honey for wound care for many years (Br. J. Oral Maxillofac. Surg., 2008).

Other trials have found full healing to be achieved with the use of manuka honey in patients whose wounds were infected by MRSA. In these cases antibiotics and antiseptics had previously failed to clear the clinical signs of infection (J. Wound Care, 2007).

When you look at the wide area of research into the use of manuka honey, it is astounding what has been achieved. Trials in India found the honey significantly reduced colonic inflammation and they therefore concluded that the honey may have a part to play in treating inflammatory bowel conditions.

A congress in Stockholm looked at how topically applied manuka honey may help prevent radiation-induced dermatitis in cancer patients.

In Dublin patients were treated for advanced wounds caused by venous leg ulcers. At the start of the study, MRSA was identified in some of the wounds. At the conclusion of the trial, results showed that 70 per cent of the wounds treated with manuka honey had eradicated the MRSA against only 16 per cent of the control group who did not use manuka honey.

So why is this particular honey so successful? Well, all honey has antibacterial properties. As I said earlier, the bee hive is a clean, bacteria-free environment. Propolis is a natural antibiotic and is used within the hive to keep it bacteria-free.

So local Maltese honey will also have this quality. It is mainly due to the hydrogen peroxide formed by the enzyme glucose oxidase which bees add to the nectar to make honey.

Manuka honey, however, is made by bees that feed on the flowers of the manuka bush (or tea tree), which is native to New Zealand and Australia. This contains a high level of additional non-peroxide antibacterial components (J. Pharm. Pharmacol., 1991).

If manuka honey had a unique selling point (USP in sales speak), it would be this non-peroxide activity.

In fact, some of the honey used in MRSA research was medical grade Manuka honey and that is not the same as the products you would buy in health food stores.

Another consideration is that while the enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide in honey is destroyed when honey is exposed to heat and light (so keep your honey in a dark, cool place) the non-peroxide antibacterial activity of manuka honey is stable, so there are no concerns that the unique manuka factor will be lost during storage.

Another use for the honey is in the treatment of anti-inflammatory conditions. The precise properties responsible for this are not yet known or understood.

However, there is no doubt that the use of manuka honey has proved successful in the treatment of a number of inflammatory conditions.

In conclusion, honey is more than just something to spread on bread. Further trials are continuing and there is even a possibility that the honey may have a serious antioxidant effect which could lead to research into the anti-ageing market.

There is no doubt that every home should have a pot of honey, preferably a brand which is local or of good quality.

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