Honey has been used for thousands of years. Many of its uses may be old wives tales but clinical trials are underway to prove in scientific terms that honey does work to heal wounds faster and to kill bacteria.

Honey - your Great Grandmother probably used it for all sorts of wounds, but years ago no-one knew how or why it worked. Medical scientists originally discarded the idea that simple honey could be of any major use for healing wounds but since 1981 Waikato University has been researching the properties of Manuka Honey. Doctors in Australia and New Zealand are now turning to honey as a treatment for leg ulcers, slow healing wounds, burns, infections, stomach and duodenal ulcers and even recovery after surgery.

Honey has been used for thousands of years. Many of its uses may be old wives tales but clinical trials are underway to prove in scientific terms that honey does work to heal wounds faster and to kill bacteria.

WHAT CAN HONEY DO?

Honey has been shown to have antibacterial properties, some scientists even go as far as to say it actually kills bacteria rather than just inhibiting its growth. Studies show that honey kills all sorts of bacteria, including the "Superbugs" Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori (the bug which causes the infection in stomach ulcers). Many burns, non-healing leg ulcers and surgical wounds contain S. aureus as well as many other harmful bacteria so honey can clear up those infections by being placed directly on the wound.

As well as killing the infective bacteria it appears that honey also speeds up the healing of wounds. New skin grows back faster. There are many success stories around including one woman who had a deep thigh wound and infection that would not heal. Doctors were considering a skin graft but decided to try honey instead. Two months later her wound was almost healed, the skin graft was avoided and scarring was minimal. Obviously the treatment might not work for everybody but if healing is slow and antibiotics have failed many times, a lot of people are willing to try something new.

HOW DOES HONEY WORK?

To kill bacteria, honey releases naturally occurring Hydrogen Peroxide, a well-known antiseptic product. This occurs when the honey comes in contact with body moisture. The Glucose Oxidase enzyme, which is introduced to the honey by the bee, slowly releases hydrogen peroxide at levels sufficient to kill bacteria but not irritate or damage human tissue.

A second antibacterial component has also been found, but only in Manuka honey. It is known as UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) and it is a non-peroxide ingredient that is active against the more resistant bacteria like S. aureus. It is not found in all Manuka honeys so look for the label that states the honey contains at least UMF 10.

Not all honeys are the same. Australian doctors began using New Zealand Manuka Honey because of its effectiveness. Most honeys have varying degrees of healing properties but Manuka honey seems to be the most powerful.

The healing properties of Manuka honey come about through its sugary quality. By a process called osmosis honey draws water to itself. This dries out the bacteria causing them to die. By absorbing moisture from a wound honey creates a barrier between the wound and the dressing so that newly formed skin does not stick to the dressing and get damaged when the dressing is pulled off to be changed. Even though the honey absorbs liquid it still keeps the surface of the wound moist, which reduces scarring and speeds up healing time.

SUMMARY

Honey is not only sweet to eat, it also kills bacteria and speeds up wound healing. It has been found to be useful for treating slow healing wounds, infections, leg ulcers, amputations and burns. One major study in burns patients published in 1991, compares the use of honey against a widely used burn cream silver sulfadiazine. Results after 15 days showed 87% of the honey treated wounds had healed compared with only 10% in the burn cream group. Hospitals and other health professionals who have for many years poo-pooed the use of natural products like honey are now using it extensively in their clinics with terrific results. Some doctors call it the "ultimate topical (external) antibacterial". Honey works by releasing hydrogen peroxide in to the area to kill bacteria and provides a moisture absorbing barrier between the raw skin and the dressing. Ulcers can be very long standing and difficult to heal and Manuka Honey can offer a very effective option to endless anti-biotics and dressings. When all else fails, try nature''s first aid.