Honey for wound healing: Study

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Queensland Government have found honey from an Australian native myrtle to be effective as an anti-bacterial agent that can be used to treat wounds and viruses.

This honey contains very high levels of the anti-bacterial compound Methylglyoxal (MGO) and it outperforms all medicinal honeys currently available on the market. By itself, methylglyoxal can be quite toxic to human skin and bacteria by killing them, but it seems that some other elements in the honey work together with this element to create the strongest antimicrobial effects found in honey thus far. It is noted that the bees that produced the honey fed on Manuka and Jelly bush, a lemon-scented tea tree known as Leptospermum polygalifolium scientifically.

Carolyn MacGill, chief executive officer of a company involved in the research, said, honey could prove useful in treating infections resistant to antibiotics. She said, “Recently there was a conference in New South Wales based on the overuse of penicillin and penicillin derivatives and this hopefully will pose an option for them to look at this type of honey for MRSA [methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus] and staph-type infections… It’ll have a huge impact, particularly in the woundcare market.” She added, “As these patients become more resilient to the penicillin products, they need to look to look for alternatives and fortunately this is a natural alternative that’s been available for some time but unknown.”

According to lead researcher Yasmina Sultanbawa, potency of the honeys meant a small amount was required to fight infection. She said, “The sheer strength, due to high levels of active compounds in these honeys, has meant that we have been able to completely inhibit MRSA for example in in-vitro studies with a small quantity of the honey.”

The researchers tested 100 Jelly bush honeys from a range of areas and found that some had 1750mg/kg of the antibacterial compound methylglyoxal – the highest concentration yet found in this kind of honey. This is higher even than the concentration found in New Zealand’s famed Manuka honey, made from Leptospermum scoparium, a cousin to the myrtle tree.

Dr Peter Molan, from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, disagreed with the fact that higher methylglyoxal level correlates with a better antimicrobial effect. Molan, a biochemist, discovered the antimicrobial activity of Manuka honey in the 1980s and says the synergy that boosts methylglyoxal activity has been found only in some types of Manuka honey. “With the Queensland honey, it is not known whether there is enough of the protective component to overcome the toxicity of the very high levels of methylglyoxal. A lot more testing would be required before it could be assumed to be safe to use on infected tissues,” he added.

The study involved Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), which carried out the latest study with the University of Queensland and two medicinal honey companies. QAAFI is a partnership between The University of Queensland and the Queensland Government’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI).

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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