You won’t bee-lieve it! Could manuka honey beat drug-resistant superbugs?

By  Nick Mcdermott

PUBLISHED: 20:53 EST, 15  March 2013 |  UPDATED: 05:55 EST, 17 March 2013

 

Strong stuff: Manuka honey could fight drug-resistant superbugsStrong stuff: Manuka honey could fight drug-resistant  superbugs

It is a natural medicine used for thousands  of years to clean wounds and fight bacteria.

Now, however, honey could hold the key to  combating the very modern threat of drug-resistant superbugs.

A study has shown that manuka honey can fight  back on two fronts. Not only can it help to kill MRSA and other superbugs, it  can also prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The danger of the rise of bugs which do not  succumb to drugs was outlined this month by the Chief Medical  Officer.

Professor Dame Sally Davies described it as a  ‘ticking timebomb’ which could leave millions vulnerable to untreatable germs  within a generation.

But a study in Australia offers a solution.  At the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), tests were carried out on manuka,  kanuka and clover honeys to find which was best at treating bacteria commonly  found in chronic skin wounds

Researchers looked at key ingredients known  to inhibit bacterial growth.

The best at doing this was Comvita  medical-grade manuka honey, made by bees foraging on New Zealand’s manuka  trees.

When combined with common antibiotics, the  treatment hampered the spread of bacteria on wounds.

Crucially, scientists found the honey  prevented the bugs from developing any resistance to the  antibiotic.

ANCIENT REMEDY

 

  • Apitherapy, the use of  honey as a medicine, has been practised since the  times of Ancient Greece  (2,000BC – 600AD)
  • Honey from the manuka, an  evergreen shrub originating from New Zealand, was used by Maoris and settlers as  medicine
  • The honey has an  anti-bacterial level four times greater than standard  antiseptic
  • It is used to clean  wounds, heal  stomach ulcers and treat eczema, acne and insect  stings

Professor Liz Harry, of UTS, said: ‘Manuka  honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last  resort, as it so often is.’ The  research, in the journal PLOS ONE, follows a previous study which found that the  honey was effective against more than 80 types of bacteria, including  MRSA.

Commercial honey bought at shops is not  suitable as it needs to be sterilised to make it medical grade.

Infections are becoming more difficult to  defeat but no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the  1980s.

It follows a previous study that found manuka  honey is effective against more than 80 different types of bacteria, including  hospital superbug MRSA.

Professor Liz Harry at UTS said: ‘We have  shown bacteria do not become resistant to honey in the laboratory. Consistent  with these facts, we also found that if MRSA were treated with just rifampicin  [antibiotic], the superbug became resistant very quickly,’ she said.

‘However, when manuka honey  and  rifampicin are used in combination to treat MRSA, rifampicin-resistant MRSA did  not emerge. In other words, honey somehow prevents the emergence of  rifampicin-resistant MRSA – this is a hugely important finding.’

With overuse of antibiotics partly blamed for  the increase in resistant superbugs, GPs will be asked to prescribe fewer  antibiotics to patients. And while  infections are becoming increasingly difficult to beat, no new class of  antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.

Dr Harry added: ‘With the existence now of  bacteria that are resistant to all available antibiotics, and the death of new  antibiotics on the market, manuka honey should be used as a first resort for  wound treatment, rather than the last resort as it so often does.

‘What we need is an acceptance by society  that antibiotics are not going to provide all that we hoped for when they were  discovered in the 1940s; and that we need to start getting very serious about  using alternatives to this, or use honey in addition to them.’

While all types of honey have some  antibacterial properties, the ingredients of manuka honey make it particularly  powerful.

It is possible to buy dressings that already  contain the honey, as well apply honey directly to bandages and other  dressings.

However, supermarket honey will not do.   Any honey used be sterilised to make it of medical grade.

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