Curing injuries with honey, does it work?

In ancient times, many cultures gave credit to the idea that honey had healing properties. As time went on, people kept believing honey could help curing many conditions. When science came about, researchers started inquiring how effective honey-based remedies really were. Doctors gathered a lot of data on how their patients – afflicted by a variety of injuries and health problems – responded to honey-based treatments.

Like many others, New Zealand biochemist Peter Molan did a lot of research in this field. He headed the Honey Research Unit at Waikato from 1995 until 2013.

The following points summarise some aspects of his research:

  • Honey has antibacterial properties
  • Honey is effective against most bacteria types – including several antibiotic-resistant strains – as well as against some fungi
  • Oxigen peroxite is the main reason why honey has antibacterial properties. Sugar content and honey’s acidity also concur to this feature
  • Not all kinds of honey are equally efficient against bacteria
  • Many clinical studies prove honey can be used to treat injuries
  • Honey can also be included in the treatment of eye, nasal and gum infections and it can help curing gastroenteritis and fungal infections of the skin in cows and goats

Once you know all this, a question might come to your mind. If honey has so many benefits, why don’t we all go to the grocery store, buy it and use it to treat any infection without medical advice? The scientific community advices caution. Honey from the grocery store is not intended for medical use. There’s a step in the manufacturing process aimed to sterilise honey. This result is achieved by exposing the product to temperatures high enough for bacteria to die completely. This very same process ruins all the molecules that make honey anti-bacterial, so grocery-store honey can’t be used as an ointment for injuries.

There is a kind of honey whose anti-bacterial properties are particularly strong, and that is Manuka honey. This honey can cure all kinds of skin cuts by reducing the infection and sealing the wound.

There is one more problem. Grocery-store honey is exposed to high temperatures to become sterile. Honey that didn’t go through that process keeps its antibacterial properties, but it also may contain bacteria that could provoke wound botulism.

Professor Molan and his colleagues carried out a study on this specific aspect in 1996. They looked for alternative methods to achieve sterilisation without altering the its antibacterial properties. Eventually, they found a method more suited to their needs; they found that gamma radiation can sterilise honey without altering its other components. Therefore, all this research goes to show how the interest for honey stood to the test of time.

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