Honey Therapy

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Chapter: Pharmaceutical Microbiology : Alternative Strategies For Antimicrobial Therapy

Bees collect nectar (a weak natural sugar solution) and pollen from flowers in their locality, and in their hives it is ultimately transformed into honey. As a consequence of the processing in the hive, sucrose in the honey is converted into fructose and glucose and the enzyme glucose oxidase converts glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.


HONEY THERAPY

 

Bees collect nectar (a weak natural sugar solution) and pollen from flowers in their locality, and in their hives it is ultimately transformed into honey. As a consequence of the processing in the hive, sucrose in the honey is converted into fructose and glucose and the enzyme glucose oxidase converts glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. As water evaporates from the honey the sugar concentration increases until it is of the order of 79% w/v. These features act to preserve the honey from microbial degradation. Other components of the honey are dependent on the geographical source of the nectar, and much interest has focused recently on honey collected in the vicinity of the Australian tea tree ( Melaleuca alternifolia) mentioned above, and the New Zealand manuka (Leptospermum scoparium). The honey collected from these areas has been studied widely because of its reported antibacterial and wound-healing properties. These have been attributed to a number of factors, including the following.

 

pH.

This ranges from 3.2 to 4.5, which is below the minimum pH values required for the growth of many common bacteria.

 

• Osmotic pressure and water activity. 

Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution with a water content of between 15 and 21% w/w. The water availability (Aw) ranges from 0.56 to 0.62, which again is below thatrequired for the growth of most common bacteria.

 

• Hydrogen peroxide. 

This is an effective antibacterial agent and, although it is rapidly neutralized, the presence of glucose oxidase ensures a constant replenishment.

 

• Non-peroxide antibacterial activity. 

Many workers have shown that the antimicrobial activity of honey persists even when the hydrogen peroxide has been removed.

 

The nature of the substance responsible for the non-peroxide activity has been elusive, but recent studies suggest that it may be methylglyoxal, found in some highly active forms of manuka honey. However, many other candidate materials are under investigation.

 

Results from animal studies, some clinical trials and much anecdotal evidence over centuries suggests that honey may have a role to play in the management of infected wounds due to its antibacterial and wound-healing properties. However, a recent Cochrane review examined 19 published clinical trials in which honey was evaluated in the treatment of acute or chronic wounds. The conclusion reached was that although honey may improve healing times in mild to moderate wounds there was insufficient evidence to support its use in other areas.

 

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