Thursday, June 14, 2007

Honey Used to Treat Wound Infections in German Hospital

The Healing Touch of Honey
By Kirsten Traynor, Humbolt Scholar, Celle, Germany
American Bee Journal, June 2007
Excerpts reprinted with permission.

[The open back of the premature newborn described in the article. Using traditional wound care, the back refuses to heal due to infection from three different types of resistant bacteria. (Photos by Kai Santos)]

[Through regular application of Medihoney, the infected wound cleared. After two weeks of treatment, the child was released home.]

[Dr. Arne] Simon, consultant of the oncology department at the children’s clinic in Bonn, Germany has helped his patients find relief through the application of honey. Most of his patients suffer from a suppressed immune system, due to their underlying illness (i.e. leukemia) and the chemotherapy they undergo.

Immunosuppression leaves the body open to attack; natural defenses are weakened and the body mends itself poorly. This frequently results in chronic wounds that refuse to heal, leaving the patient susceptible to wound infections. Unfortunately these infections spread easily and can cause sepsis, a potentially life-threatening state where the body goes into overdrive and attacks its own organs and tissues.

Five years ago a 12-year-old patient was submitted to the children’s clinic in Bonn. Prior to his arrival at the clinic, doctors at another hospital had partially removed an abdominal tumor, leaving an open drainage site on his stomach. Under Simon’s care the wound was treated with Octenidin for 12 days. When no improvements occurred, the doctor tested the wound and discovered a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection…

One of the clinic’s wound care nurses, Ms. Blaser had heard of Medihoney’s successful application against MRSA and suggested the clinic try treating the patient’s infected wound. Although the patient was scheduled to receive multi-pronged chemotherapy, treatment could not commence until the infection cleared. After only two days of application, Medihoney cleared the wound of MRSA, and the patient could start his cancer treatment…

In Europe, Medihoney has received CE Certification, so it can be prescribed by a dermatologist or general physician, in which case medical insurance must cover the cost. It is also available over the counter from pharmacies and online, but without a prescription the buyer bears the brunt of the cost.

So what makes Medihoney so effective? Honey works differently than prescribed antibiotics, a selective poison that attacks the bacteria’s cell-wall building mechanism. Instead of poisoning bacteria, to which resistance can develop, honey works in a multi-pronged attack. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it draws moisture out of the environment and thus dehydrates bacteria.

Its sugar content is also high enough to hinder the growth of microbes, but the sugar content alone is not the sole reason for honey’s antibacterial properties. When honey is diluted with water, reducing its high sugar content, it still stops the common bacteria S. aureus in its tracks. In fact honey’s natural antibacterial properties inhibit the growth of approximately 60 species of bacteria, including aerobes and anaerobes, gram-positives and gram-negatives.

Medihoney, a combination of two different honeys, works in a two-fold punch. The first honey, rich in the enzyme glucose oxidase, reacts and produces gluconic acid and minute amounts of hydrogen peroxide when diluted by body fluids or wound exudates. As many know, hydrogen peroxide was once welcomed by the medical community with great applause as a fantastic healer, but then faded from the stage as it damaged tissue. In contrast, the continuous production of weak hydrogen peroxide from honey (at approximately 1/1000 of the strength of the store bought 3% solution5) helps heal without any negative drawbacks.

The second source in Medihoney is an active manuka or jellybush (Leptospermum spp.) honey, rich in plant derived antibacterial properties. Unlike glucose oxidase, the antibacterial properties from manuka and jellybush honey are light and heat stable. Over 100 substances are candidates for this antibacterial property, but the active ingredient has not yet been identified. Even if you block the hydrogen peroxide activity and the osmotic effect of honey due to its high sugar content, manuka and jellybush honey still stop bacterial growth.

Clostridium botulinum spores pervade our environment, existing in the soil, air, dust, and raw agricultural products. Since spores have occasionally been found in honey, each batch of Medihoney is gamma irradiated to avoid all possibilities of spreading botulism. According to Dr. Molan of New Zealand, the heat and light sensitive enzyme glucose oxidase in honey and the phenolic components of manuka honey are not negatively affected by this inexpensive treatment…

Due to the safeness of Medihoney, Simon and his colleagues have even applied the honey on premature neonatals. One infant patient had an open back. The wound stagnated, developing three different types of resistant bacteria. Before treatment with Medihoney was initiated, the child had received numerous antibiotics in an attempt to clear the wound, spending the first two months of its life in a hospital. Simon and his staff immediately resorted to Medihoney. The wound cleared, allowing the patient to be released home after two weeks of treatment…

Before applying Medihoney, the wound is cleaned with a Ringer solution, a sodium chloride sterile preparation. Simon explains that despite its incredible results, Medihoney is not an antiseptic. An ideal wound antiseptic, according to Dr. Kramer of the University of Greifswald, Germany meets the following criteria:

* shows a quick onset of activity and a remnant, broad spectrum effect against bacteria and fungi, even under the unfavorable condition of an exudating, colonized or infected wound;
* enhances and accelerates the physiologic process of wound healing (debridement, granulation), even if applied for prolonged periods;
* does not cause adverse local or systemic effects (allergy, toxicity related to absorption);
* is of moderate cost even if applied two times daily.

Medihoney meets all of the above criteria except “a quick onset of activity,” as it does not seem to produce the desired reduction of bacteria and fungi in a short enough time span of 1-5 minutes to be qualified as an antiseptic. According to Simon, honey is very effective, but needs a minimum application of four to five hours. Thus some patients apply the wound dressing overnight, so as not to restrict their mobility during the day. Because not enough information has been published on the amount of time Medihoney needs to kill bacteria, Simon and his staff apply an additional antiseptic during the first 24 hours of treatment…

Many cancer patients suffer from mucositis, a side effect of chemo that attacks the entire gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus…

In a study conducted in 2003, “Biswal et al. investigated the use of honey in 40 adult patients with head and neck cancer.” Patients consumed 20 ml (1 1/3 teaspoon) of pure honey 15 minutes before, 15 minutes after and 6 hours post treatment. The honey group suffered from less mucositis than the control group. Cancer patients undergoing treatment frequently suffer from severe weight loss, but 55% of the honey group maintained their weight or showed a positive gain, compared to only 25% of the control group. Due to these positive findings, Simon recommends a similar program of honey ingestion to his patients undergoing radiotherapy for cancer in the head and neck region…

Since honey is made from plant secretions, it is plausible that nectar from different sources will have varying antibacterial, antifungal or antiviral effects. Other countries need to follow in New Zealand and Australia’s footsteps, investing in rigorous testing of the properties of their local honeys, both in the lab and in vivo.

[This article is based on an interview with Dr. Arne Simon of the Children’s Hospital Medical Center University of Bonn, Germany and published medical reports. The research was made possible by the generous support of the Humboldt Foundation through a German Chancellor Scholarship to the author Kirsten Traynor.]

As part of her independent research project Kirsten Traynor is writing a book on the medicinal benefits of bee hive products for the lay public. She welcomes any contacts and is keen to receive information on this topic, especially published medical studies using honey, propolis, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom. Please send materials to: Kirsten Traynor, Humboldt Scholar, Institute for Bee Research, Herzogin-Eleonore-Allee 5, 29221 Celle, Germany. Email: or

No comments: