For more than 4,000 years, and cited in some of the world’s most ancient writings, honey has been promoted as an effective agent for wound healing. The discovery of antibiotics in the mid- 20th century refocused medicine almost entirely on these new anti-microbial agents like penicillin, but with the present day onslaught of deadly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, honey has become the treatment of last resort, especially for non-healing wounds, burns and wounds that have become infected with resistant microbes. In fact, in some wound clinics, honey is fast becoming the go-to treatment for most patients, especially those with burns. Folklore or not, honey seems to promote faster, better healing with less scarring and a proven anti-microbial quality.
Dozens of randomized clinical trials involving thousands of subjects have repeatedly shown that unpasteurized, raw honey is much more than one of granny’s back-fence remedies, although many of those back-fence remedies have also been shown to be the real thing. Honey has demonstrable antibiotic properties, and has a proven effect even against some of the most potent bacteria, the so-called hospital-dwelling “superbugs” like MRSA, and the horrifying flesh-eating bacteria that causes necrotizing fasciitis. Studies have shown that even heavily infected wounds become sterile quickly when honey has been applied as long as the infection hasn’t spread to the bloodstream.
Honey has a high sugar content and very low water content. This causes the honey to attract and bind to water molecules and deny bacterial organisms the water they need to survive. Further, honey, when in a moist environment like a wound bed, slowly produces and releases small amounts of hydrogen peroxide which is a known anti-bacterial agent. Some studies are now looking at the possibility that certain flowers’ nectar may provide additional powerful antibacterial properties. Manuka honey from Australia and New Zealand seems to have the most potent antibacterial properties identified so far, and it is now being manufactured into dressings by a New Jersey pharmaceutical company.
Research has proven honey to be very effective in treating non-healing diabetic ulcerations and painful bed sores, probably because honey seems to provide good nutrition to the healing skin cells including amino acids, vitamins and minerals, all of which greatly encourage fast new tissue growth. Because it also decreases edema and inflammation, it reduces the possibility of gangrene and amputation in diabetic patients, and in cases where gangrene is already present, necrotic tissue is quickly sloughed off and replaced with granulation cells and clean, healthy tissue.
Unlike many other topical antiseptics, honey causes no tissue damage itself, and promotes healing at the skin’s surface which results in greatly decreased scarring. Clinical trials have shown honey to be more effective than any traditional dressings for burns, and a honey-soaked dressing provided faster healing with protection against infections. Honey’s thick consistency ensures a sterile healing environment by providing a barrier against organisms that could re-infect a wound site.
As if all these benefits weren’t enough, honey is far more cost-effective than antibiotics or other topical compounds. Honey is far more inexpensive than antibiotics and may result in fewer ongoing costs, shorter hospital stays, fewer follow-up procedures like debridements that become unnecessary when honey has been used on the wound, and an overall reduced use of antibiotics. For example, treating a wound with a conventional product may cost upwards of $40 while honey dressings will cost less than $8. Pharmaceutical companies may not be enthusiastic about this but the patient certainly will, as long as they are wise enough to know that raw honey from the grocery store will be every bit as effective as raw honey that was taken over and produced by the pharmaceutical company and sold for 10 times the price. Unfortunately, nearly 75 percent of the world’s Manuka honey is now owned by a company that markets to the pharmaceutical industry. Nonetheless, health food stores and even supermarkets that have organic products continue to be a good source of raw organic honey.