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Honey as an Antibiotic

Honey could be a solution to the problem of bacterial resistance to, to research done at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I  and presented in March 2014 at the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.

A release from the society noted that medical professionals sometimes use honey successfully as a topical dressing but that the researchers predicted it could play a larger role in fighting infections..

The release quotes study leader Susan M. Meschwitz, Ph.D. as saying, "The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance. She went on to explain that honey uses a combination of weapons including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols, all of which actively kill bacterial cells. The osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.

In addition, several studies have shown that honey inhibits the formation of biofilms, or communities of disease-causing bacteria. "Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics," Meschwitz said. Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms. In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria's pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.

Meschwitz said another advantage of honey is that unlike conventional antibiotics, it doesn't target the essential growth processes of bacteria. The problem with this type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, is that it results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.

Honey is effective because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants, she said. These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids. "Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics," she added. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey, according to Meschwitz.

She said that her team also is finding that honey has antioxidant properties and is an effective antibacterial. "We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity," she explained. "We have separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds. In our antibacterial studies, we have been testing honey's activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others."

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