Honey and Health

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What is honey used to treat?

Honey is most commonly used as a topical antibacterial agent to treat infections in a wide range of wound types. These include:

In most cases, honey is used when conventional antibacterial treatment with antibiotics and antiseptics are ineffective. Numerous studies have shown that these difficult-to-heal wounds respond well to honey dressings. Inflammation, swelling and pain rapidly subside, unpleasant odours stop, debridement is enhanced as the honey dressings remove dead tissue painlessly and without causing damage to the regrowing cells. Honey promotes rapid healing with minimal scarring.

Honey can also be used as first aid treatment for burns as it has potent anti-inflammatory activity.

What honey should be used?

For centuries it has been known that different types of honey exhibit differences in antibacterial activity. In recent years, honey from different sources have been studied and a few have been identified as having particularly high antibacterial activity. Manuka honey gathered from the manuka tree Leptospermum scoparium, native to New Zealand, has exceptionally high antibacterial activity, with about half of this type of honey having high levels of non-peroxide activity (ie: high levels of antibacterial phytochemical activity present). It is important for honey to have this additional non-peroxide antibacterial component as factors such as acidity, catalase and protein-digesting enzymes in wound fluids all work towards reducing the hydrogen peroxide antibacterial effectiveness.

For the treatment of infected wounds, it is important that sterilised, laboratory-tested honey for medicinal purposes is used. Honey produced from manuka trees is tested for antibacterial activity and given a potency rating called a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor). The higher the UMF rating, the greater the level of antibacterial activity. Medical professionals in New Zealand use active manuka honey with a rating of UMF 10 or higher. UMF graded honey is also sterilised by gamma irradiation without loss of any antibacterial activity.

Honey in wound care

Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2005.

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