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New Zealand Honey Could Be Handy In Fighting Superbugs

Honey fell out of favor in the last century as antibiotics became all the rage in medicine.
Honey fell out of favor in the last century as antibiotics became all the rage in medicine.

Sweet and powerful, honey has been used since the time of ancient Egypt to treat everything from diarrhea to open sores, yet it fell out of favor in the last century as antibiotics became all the rage in medicine.

But now, as patients all over the world increasingly suffer infections with MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria, honey is getting another look from mainstream medicine.

Microbiologist Rose Cooper of the University of Wales Institute has been on the cutting edge of honey research for the last few years. But her report this week at a big microbiology conference that just a tiny amount of Manuka honey seems to help fight MRSA — at least in a petri dish — is creating a bit of a buzz.

Now, before you reach for the honey pot, know that the MRSA experiment hasn't been tested in people — or animals, for that matter, Cooper says. And just any old honey won't do: Manuka honey is a specific kind of honey from bees that gather nectar from the Manuka (or tea tree), which is native to New Zealand.

Previous studies have shown that Manuka honey decreases the surface pH of wounds and can promote healing by helping to drain wounds and keep bacteria out.

Other honeys have shown some promise in fighting bad bacteria as well, and there are many medical products on the market containing honey, but they all seem to have different modes of action, Cooper says.

For example, some honeys produce hydrogen peroxide when diluted — that's what gives them antimicrobial properties — but Manuka honey produces a different antimicrobial substance called methylglyoxal.

Cooper cautions that her research is preliminary but promising.

"The work in our lab has shown that honey can make MRSA more sensitive to antibiotics such as oxacillin — effectively reversing antibiotic resistance. This indicates that existing antibiotics may be more effective against drug-resistant infections if used in combination with Manuka honey," she tells the Telegraph.

She tells Shots that she hopes to someday create a wound care cream, but that it would be at least five years off.

"I don't want people to start thinking they can go out and buy honey and start to treat their wounds," she tells Shots. "Some honeys have spores that can cause gangrene and wound botulism."

The research must be replicated in clinical trials down the road and tested in other kinds of honeys, Cooper says.

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