Honey has been used for centuries to counteract bacteria infections. But until recently, few realized just how antibiotic honey is against super bacteria.
Is honey really antibiotic?
You betcha. Consider the overwhelming evidence:
Research from Sweden’s Lunds University used honey to treat 10 horses that had been injured (not by the researchers). Their wounds were infected with bacteria and had not healed in over a year. The honey formulation applied by the researchers promoted wound healing in every horse, and their wounds healed up quickly. Three of the horses’ wounds healed in less than three days, while the rest healed in less than 20 days.
The researchers tested the honey formulation in the laboratory and found it was able to combat 53 different species of bacteria that had colonized with Staphylococcus – super bacteria if there ever was.
Research from the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University and the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology tested five different samples of honey against a number of super bacteria species. They found that all of the honeys significantly inhibited the growth of Bacillus alvei, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus polymyxa, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Researchers from the Malaysia’s University of Malaya tested several types of Malaysian honeys against Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They found that all inhibited the bacteria, but some inhibited them more than others. The most antibiotic properties came from the gelam, kelulut and tualang honey varieties.
A study from South Africa’s University of Fort Hare tested six local honeys against the Helicobacter pylori – implicated in ulcers and stomach cancer. The research found that all six were antibiotic against H. pylori to different degrees.
A study from Pakistan’s University of Malakand found that honeys from local plants inhibited the bacteria Klebsilla pneumonia and Escherichia coli along with and two fungi, Alternaria alternata and Trichoderma harzianum. The researchers found that honey’s antibacterial properties were better than its antiviral properties, but both were found.
University of Sydney and New Zealand researchers found that Manuka honey destroyed biofilms of several strains of Staphylococcus aureus – each producing different types of biofilms.
This is significant because biofilms are large colonies of bacteria – growing infections.
Researchers from New York’s Waili Foundation for Science tested five types of honey against a variety of multi-drug resistant bacteria and fungi. Among them, the honeys were antimicrobial the most against Aspergillus nidulans, Salmonella typhimurum and Staphylococcus epidermidis among others. They found the all five of the honeys were significantly antimicrobial against these and other bacteria and fungi, with little difference between them. They concluded:
“Various honey samples collected from different geographical areas and plant origins showed almost similar antimicrobial activities against multiresistant pathogens despite considerable variation in their composition. Honey may represent an alternative candidate to be tested as part of management of drug multiresistant pathogens.”
A study from the UK’s Cardiff Metropolitan University tested manuka honey against three different strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They found that all three strains were inhibited. But they also found that the honey interfered with the bacteria’s ability to capture iron – which use siderophores in their process of infection and growth.
Researchers from Slovak Medical University tested several honeys against Proteus mirabilis and Enterobacter cloacae. They found that each of the honeys inhibited the bacteria, but manuka honey inhibited them the most.
They also found that one of manuka’s antibacterial compounds was methylglyoxal.
University of Technology Sydney researchers tested several types of honeys against Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They found that each inhibited the bacteria in different ways. While manuka honey again proved to be more antibiotic, the other honeys worked against the bacteria in different ways.
Researchers from Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana tested several honeys against Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecalis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus along with the fungi Aspergillus niger, Aureobasidium pullulans, Candida albicans, Candida parapsilosis, Candida tropicalis, Cladosporium cladosporioides, Penicillium chrysogenum and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa. They found that all of the bacteria were inhibited by all of the honeys.
As far as the fungi, only honeys at more than 50% concentration inhibited these, all but three (Aspergillus niger, Candida albicans and Penicillium chrysogenum) were inhibited by the honeys.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland tested five Finnish honeys against Streptococcus pneumoniae, S. pyogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). The researchers found that the honeys inhibited all the bacteria, and the most antimicrobial potency was found with honeys from willow, heather and buckwheat flowers.
Researchers from Greece’s University of Thessaly tested 31 honeys from Greece and Cyprus against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They found that all 31 honeys were antibiotic against the two resilient bacteria species. They found that the MICs (minimum inhibitory concentrations) of the 31 honeys ranged from 3 to 25%.
They also tested manuka honey against the same bacteria and found manuka’s MIC to be 6.25% on average. When tested with agar diffusion, the MICs ranged from 6 to 25%, while manuka came in at 12.5%. This indicates that manuka is pretty antibiotic, but not necessarily the highest of all honeys.
Can honey compete with pharmaceutical antibiotics?
Affirmative. Actually, honey has been found to beat some pharmaceutical antibiotics.
In a review of 42 studies from the Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, researchers found that honey was not only antibiotic, but antiviral and antibiotic. They found some studies were honey’s antibiotic effect was similar to or better than antibiotics.
Could honey really beat an antibiotic?
Research from the University of Gondar Medical School in Ethiopia found that honey and ginger powder will inhibit the growth of several superbugs. These included Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
They tested the combination against the pharmaceutical antibiotics methicillin, amoxicillin and penicillin – three of the most successful antibiotics used in conventional medicine.
In this study – like most of the others – the researchers used the standardized approach of measuring mean inhibition distances after culturing the bacteria in a broth solution using agar as a medium for measurement. The broths were cultured with the treatments for 20-24 hours to measure their effect upon the bacteria.
The research found that the honey had greater inhibition levels than any of the antibiotics. Honey alone beat all three of these antibiotics in terms of inhibition distance in millimeters.
Honey alone had an average inhibition of 19.23 millimeters among the five bacteria tested, while methicillin had an average inhibition of 4.00 mm, amoxicillin had an average inhibition of 12.25 mm, and penicillin had an average inhibition of 13.25 mm.
And the combination of the ginger extract and the honey had even greater antibiotic properties, with mean inhibitions averaging 25.62 – beating out every antibiotic tested by a landslide.
Some flowers make honey more antibacterial
Research has revealed that not only does honey have confirmed antibiotic, antifungal and antioxidant properties, but its healing and antimicrobial capacity is dependent upon the type of flower the honeybees are harvesting.
Researchers from the School of Medicine at Malaysia’s University of Sains recently published a study that compared the antioxidant and antimicrobial capacity of several types of honeys – each from bees that harvested different flowers in different regions.
They found that among the different honeys tested, Honey from bees harvesting from Acacia tree flowers and Honey from bees harvesting pollen from Pineapple flowers had the highest antimicrobial content. This compared to sweeter honeys such as Tualang honey, which contained the highest antioxidant properties – and the highest levels of polyphenols and flavonoids compared to the others. Tualang honey also had the greatest color intensity, and Acacia honey was the sweetest.
In another recent study, researchers from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University tested several types of honeys to determine their respective antimicrobial capacity along with their antioxidant potential.
The researchers tested several different types of Honeys against Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. These two species are two of the most aggressive bacteria known, and both have become to different degrees, resistant to many of conventional medicine’s antibiotics – MRSA being one of the most aggressive and lethal. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an aggressive bacteria known to harbor in soils and around moist areas such as hot tubs and swimming pools – earning its reputation as the “hot tub bacteria.”
The researchers found that among the different Honeys tested, Honey from bees that harvested flowers from the Manuka tree had significantly more antibacterial capacity against Staphylococcus aureus. Manuka honey was measured as having a minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 6-7%. MIC relates to the lowest concentration needed to inhibit microorganism growth overnight.
On the other hand, honey from bees harvesting pollen from wild carrot flowers was found to have the greatest antibacterial capacity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa – but with a MIC of 12%.
MICs of 6-7% and 12% are considered quite effective antimicrobials.
Interestingly, Lavender honey was the least effective antimicrobial of the Honeys tested. Lavender honey also had the lowest polyphenol content, while Manuka honey contained the highest levels of polyphenols.
The researchers concluded:
“The differences between Honey samples in terms of antibacterial and antioxidant activity could be attributed to the natural variations in floral sources of nectar and the different locations.”
Researchers from India’s Chitkara College of Pharmacy in Punjab also studied a number of different Honeys. They collected honey samples from ten different regions and matched those with the flowers being harvested by the bees, including Eucalyptus, Amomum, Brassica, Acacia, and Citrus. The researchers tested the samples for both antimicrobial capacity and antioxidant capacity along with pH, Brix and other qualities.
In this study, the researchers tested the honeys against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli bacteria to rate their degree of antimicrobial capacity.
This research again found that the honeys’ antimicrobial/antioxidant capacity was tied to the type of flower being harvested by the bees.
Some of the highest levels of antimicrobial capacity were found in Eucalyptus honey, Azadirachta honey and Citrus honey, with the Azadirachta honey having the highest levels in this study.
One of the main flavonoid types in Honey are catechins. Other research covered by Realnatural has discovered that catechins have the ability to deter tumor growth. In addition, Honey contains significant levels of gallic acid. Gallic acid has also been found to be anticarcinogenic.
Most of the tests included screening for 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). Practically all the Honeys contained different degrees of HMF. HMF has been shown to be antifungal as well as antibacterial. HMF has been shown to inhibit the growth of various types of yeasts, as well as E. coli and other species of bacteria as indicated in these studies.
Why honey is so antibacterial
Honey is sweet, and most of us know that pathogenic bacteria love to feed off (or ferment from) sugar. This is why fruits and fruit juices ferment so fast. Because the bacteria are feeding from the sugars and colonizing fast.
So why is honey – one of the sweetest things around – antibacterial? There are two principal reasons:
- Because the plant compounds that bees collect are full of antimicrobial agents – which plants use to fight bacteria
- Because bees mix probiotic bacteria species with the honey inside the hive.
- Because bees have antibacterial compounds in their saliva, which they mix with the honey.
On the latter point, the horse study discussed earlier from Sweden found that the primary reason the honey healed the horses so fast was because they honey contained lactic acid bacteria – Lactobacillus species. These provide an array of antibiotics, just as they do in our intestines.
These two reasons for honey’s antibacterial nature – the plant’s antibacterial compounds and the bacteria inserted by the bees – illustrates how Nature’s living forces work together to combat infective bacteria.
Nature works with completely different mechanisms than static antibiotics. How is that?
It is a fact that bacteria are always present around bee hives. Bacteria are also constantly present around the plants.
In order to survive, living organisms work to fight off those threats to their survival.
The antibacterial measures that plants utilize are moved up to the flower where pollen is produced. This pollen is collected by bees and brought to the hive.
The bees also employ their own antibacterial measures to prevent infection in the hive. These include employing their own probiotic bacteria colonies and producing their own antibiotics which are secreted from their saliva.
Propolis, in fact, is the product produced from the bee’s saliva. It has been shown to be significantly antibiotic. This was shown in a study from Egypt’s National Research Center, where propolis extract was found the significantly deter bacteria growth among cotton production.
So why did honey’s antibiotic strategies beat out antibiotics like methicillin, amoxicillin and penicillin? Because these antibiotics are static. They work the same way every time.
Bacteria like MRSA have figured out a workaround to these. They have figured out how those antibiotics work and have developed measures that counteract them.
Bacteria are alive and they want to survive
But so do bees, and so do plants, and so do other organisms. And this creates a moving target.
We might compare it to how sports competitors are always developing new strategies to beat their opponents. As soon as their opponent develops a new strategy, they figure out how to counteract it.
This mutual counteractivity produces evolution. In their quest to survive, they are evolving.
This is why using nature to counteract infection is far more sustainable than creating temporary, environment-polluting pharmaceuticals that only create superbugs in the end.
The above studies illustrate that while most raw honey is antimicrobial and antioxidant, the relative degrees of its antimicrobial and antioxidant capacities relate specifically to the type of flower the honeybees are harvesting, as well as the health of the honeybees.
The bottom line is that raw honey is antimicrobial and antioxidant, and it is for this reason that honey can be used to help heal cuts and other wounds, gargled for a sore throat and applied in other ways to help fight off infection.
Raw is important because many commercially available honeys are heated. During this heated process many of the antimicrobial and antioxidant compounds are eliminated or reduced. This means that heated honey will have less antimicrobial capacity than raw Honey.
Clear honey is often heated. But filtering in itself does not make the honey unraw. For some producers, in order to get the Honey to flow through the filtration screens it must be heated. Therefore, a clear honey will often not be a raw honey.
Yet there are some honeys that are raw yet relatively clear, so you may need to ask the beekeeper.
A raw honey producer may filter it to remove large particulates, and sometimes those honeys can look clear. So judging just on clarity is not always safe. Better to find out from the manufacturer if the honey was heated or not. If the label says “Raw” and the Honey is clear, you might just follow up to make sure the producer is not heating it.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.