Since ancient times, honey has been used as a natural cure for infections, burns, and wounds; but as with most natural remedies, it was eventually replaced by modern medicine. Conventional antibiotics are a modern miracle in that they’ve saved countless lives, but unfortunately, we are now dealing with the serious and growing problem of antibiotic resistance. And so, once again, we must go back to Mother Nature to help us out—and honey may be the sweet solution.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when microorganisms evolve in order to adapt to new environments. They essentially become able to grow in the presence of an antibiotic that would normally kill them. Bacteria which have become resistant trigger infections which can no longer be treated with conventional drugs.
According to new research presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), honey may be one answer to antibiotic resistance as it is able to fight infection on multiple levels. It is unlike conventional antibiotics in that it doesn't target the essential growth processes of bacteria. This type of targeting is problematic because the bacteria begin to build resistance to the drugs.
According to the study, honey possesses the following properties (all of which kill bacterial cells):
- Osmotic effect: Honey has a high concentration of sugar and low water activity, making it difficult for the growth of microorganisms. This high sugar concentration draws water from bacteria cells, dehydrating and destroying them.
- Hydrogen peroxide: When mixed with bodily fluids, honey produces and slowly releases hydrogen peroxide making it an effective antibiotic when applied topically.
- Acidity: The pH level of honey is typically between 3.2 and 4.5—an acidic level that prevents the growth of most types of bacteria.
- Polyphenols: These are natural antioxidants. For the study, researchers separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds and tested their activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Past research has also shown that honey hinders the formation of biofilms—slimy films that help protect bacteria from antibiotic therapy and the body’s immune reaction.
Honey may also interfere with the way in which bacteria communicate with each other, a process known as quorum sensing. Quorum sensing is most likely necessary for the formation of biofilms. All of this acts to weaken bacteria virulence (the bacteria’s ability to cause disease), making the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics.