Manuka honey research reveals its potential to promote wound healing

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Honey has for a long time been used as a traditional remedy in the treatment of wounds, particularly for the prevention and treatment of infection. Any potential here has real significance these days, at least in part because we’re seeing the emergence of more strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. And also because chronic (long-term) wounds can be debilitating for the sufferer and a huge drain in terms of healthcare spending and resources. Apparently, chronic wounds account for up to 4 per cent of health care expenses in the developed world. That’s a lot.

One specific form of honey that is renowned in natural medicine for its curative properties is manuka honey. I was interested to see that a recent study supports its use in chronic wounds [1]. The research involved assessing the impact of manuka honey on an organism known as Streptococcus pyogenese (S. pyogenes). This bacterium is commonly found in wounds that are chronically infected.

One characteristic of S. pyogenes is that it has the ability to clump together and cause what is called a ‘biofilm’. Biofilms can form when proteins on the bacterium attached to another protein (called fibronectin) on the surface of damaged tissue cells. The biofilm that can for as a result can protect the bacterium by making it inaccessible to antibiotics.

In this recent research, manuka honey was found to reduce the expression of the proteins it uses to attach to fibronectin, thereby disrupting the formation and maintenance of the biofilm. This research provides some insight in the mechanism through which manuka honey may prevent or treat wound infections. It is perhaps also worth bearing in mind that manuka honey has been found to inhibit literally dozens of bacterial species.

This piece of research reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend. His mother-in-law was in hospital and had been diagnosed with a chronic infection in an ulcer. My friend has some interest in natural medicine, did some on-line research, through which he learned about manuka honey and its potential for assisting wound healing. He took the idea to his mother-in-law’s doctors here in the UK. The response? They flatly refused to use it, though it was not clear quite what the objection was.

Research like this recent study should help mainstream acceptance of a nature substance which appears to have genuine value in the treatment of chronically infected wounds. This will be a good thing, as more widespread use is likely to save a lot of money and a lot of suffering.


1. Maddocks SE, et al. Manuka honey inhibits the development of Streptococcus pyogenes biofilms and causes reduced expression of two fibronectin binding proteins. Microbiology. Published online ahead of print January 31, 2012

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