As with many other medical practices (hygiene, maggots...) the takeover staged by antibiotics in the second half of the last century drove honey from the medicine cabinet. Yet, although it was only relatively recently that the mechanisms were understood, honey had been used for topical wound dressing for millennia
(Ed. Honey combines a very low level of water (bacteria need water to survive) with hydrogen peroxide, an excellent antiseptic, when diluted.
The normal medical dilution of hydrogen peroxide (3%) kills bugs but also damages the surrounding tissue. The hydrogen peroxide in honey, released gradually as it comes into contact with the body fluids, is present at a much lower concentration - enough to kill the bugs but not damage tissue.)
The problem about using honey as a wound dressing is that it is extraordinarily messy - and that, from a medical point of view, it is very
difficult to keep it in contact with the wound. However, Professor Peter Molan of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, has been working on the problem.
In fact, Professor Molan has been working on the problem with particular reference to manuka honey, made from the flowers of the manuka bush, a native of New Zealand, with an extra antibacterial property over and above that of other honeys. After 20 years’ research, Professor Molan is still not sure about the chemical make up of this extra anti-bacterial - but he has found a way to measure it - the UMF factor.
Certainly manuka honey with a high UMF factor (ideally Professor Molan says, between 15 and 20, but no higher) has proved very
successful at healing anything from diabetic leg ulcers to MRSA.
But whatever its antibacterial properties, for allergic people all honey, not just manuka honey, has another equally well recognised and possibly even more valuable property - it is anti-inflammatory. Since allergic conditions are inflammatory by nature, honey could be a very
Professor Molan is as enthusiastic about the anti-inflammatory properties of honey as about its antibiotic properties although he admits, sadly, that there are very few clinical trials supporting its anti-inflammatory use. So the professor uses himself, his family, his staff and his colleagues to test the possible use of honey to relieve allergies - and here are some of his suggestions.
For itchy, hay fever eyes - dilute honey (manuka or other) 50/50 with warm water and use in an eye dropper. It will sting for 30 seconds and then give a day's relief.
Sinusitis - use as above as a nasal spray.
Allergic asthma - he says that he has not tried it but he knows of a colleague who has used the same dilution in a nebuliser with good results.
Eczema and other skin conditions - pure honey is impractical to use on anything but small patches of eczematous skin (although see below for new dressings) but there are eczema creams that incorporate up to 30% honey in their make-up and which can very be helpful.
The benefit of honey-based creams over steroids is that while both act as antibacterials and control symptoms, the steroid cream actively impedes healing while the honey promotes it. There are also anecdotal reports of honey-based creams working well on adolescent acne.
Arthritis - again, no trials, but Professor Molan believes that the anti-inflammatory properties of honey applied topically, as a cream, could benefit arthritissufferers.
Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s etc
A fairly brief Google trawl brought up only one paper (Could honey have a place in colitis therapy? Y. Bilsel etc al Dig Surgery 2002; 19:306-312) specifically on honey used in this context (it proved as effective as prednisolone in rats...) but did suggest possible bacterial involvement in inflammatory bowel conditions. This would suggest that honey (especially manuka honey?) might have a role to play. Professor Molan has not yet found any staff or family with inflammatory bowel disease on whom to experiment but says that he has heard good reports from colleagues.
Meanwhile he has been working with Comvita, the best known of the manuka honey producers, on a honey-based dressing that will remain unsticky and stay in place. His new dressing, called Comvita ApiNate™, impregnates the honey into a calcium alginate fibre (seaweed) dressing that can be used for anything from eczema to burns or open wounds.
Comvita also markets five skin care creams in the UK (more in New Zealand) which range from their Manukacare 18+ which can be used on cuts, grazes, ulcers or any other kind of skin lesion, to a lip balm. You should be able to find them in Holland and Barrett, Revital or Fresh and Wild shops although, at the moment, you cannot buy their honey-based creams, which would be suitable for eczema or other problem skin in the UK.
If you are just looking for the honey to eat - and exceptionally delicious it is too - it is available from health and fine food stores nationwide.
For more information check www.comvita.co.uk
Although Comvita is the ‘brand leader’ in manuka honey it is not the only supplier and, in pursuit of honey based-creams that might help acne or eczema sufferers we found a good range at Nature’s Nectar -
Both the website and the lady who answered the phone were very helpful and the range includes, like Comvita, a full-strength therapeutic cream for use on open wounds and creams designed for use on eczema, combining manuka honey with evening primrose and calendula oils. The Manuka Honey Company's honey can also be bought at Holland and Barrett.
A Comparison Between Medical Grade Honey and Table Honeys in Relation to Antimicrobial Efficacy – a very detailed evaluation of manuka nd other honeys as antimicrobials/natural antibiotics.
First published in 2007
Manuka honey enthusiast, Oliver Wastie, has set up a whole site, ManukaHoneyWorld, devoted to manuka honey with health and beauty care information and products plus links to buy many of them via Amazon.
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