Honey Making a Comeback as Antibiotic Choice in Human Medicine

Amid growing concern over drug-resistant superbugs and nonhealing wounds that endanger diabetes patients, nature's original antibiotic--honey--is making a comeback.

More than 4,000 years after Egyptians began applying honey to wounds, Derma Sciences Inc., a New Jersey company that makes medicated and other advanced wound care products, began selling the first honey-based dressing this fall after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Called Medihoney, it is made from a highly absorbent seaweed-based material, saturated with manuka honey, a particularly potent type that experts say kills germs and speeds healing. Also called Leptospermum honey, manuka honey comes from hives of bees that collect nectar from manuka and jelly bushes in Australia and New Zealand.

Derma Sciences now sells two Medihoney dressings to hospitals, clinics and doctors in North and South America under a deal with supplier Comvita LP of New Zealand. Derma Sciences hopes to have its dressings in U.S. drug stores in the next six months, followed by adhesive strips.

Comvita, which controls about 75% of the world's manuka honey supply, sells similar products under its own name in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, where such products have been popular for over a decade.

Honey dressings and gels, as well as tubes of manuka honey, have been gaining in popularity overseas, fueled by scientific reports on their medical benefits and occasional news accounts of the dramatic recovery of a patient with a longtime wound that suddenly healed.

Regular honey can have mild medicinal benefits. A study published Dec. 3 showed it helps to calm children's coughs so they can sleep. But manuka honey is far more potent, research shows.

Robert Frykberg, DPM, MPH, chief of podiatry at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, said the Medihoney product has worked on about half the patients with diabetic foot ulcers who have used it.

He said the Medihoney dressing can also prevent the dangerous drug-resistant staph infection known as MRSA from infecting open wounds.

"It's been used on wounds where nothing else will work," said biochemist Peter Molan, PhD, a professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand who has researched honey and other natural antibiotics for 25 years.

He's found manuka honey can kill the toughest bacteria even when diluted 10 times and recommends it especially for people with weak immune systems.

"There's more evidence, clinical evidence, by far for honey in wound treatment than for any of the pharmaceutical products" for infection, Molan said. However, it won't work once an infection gets in the blood. "It's not a miracle."

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The Associated Press


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