Researchers confirm wound-healing properties of manuka honey

Antimicrobial substance could help NHS save millions

New research has confirmed the antimicrobial benefits of manuka honey

New research supports the use of manuka honey in medical dressings after it was found to fight the bacteria that stops some wounds from healing.

Welsh scientists at Cardiff Metropolitan University say dressings made from the medical-grade honey could be useful in the battle against superbugs such as MRSA.

Dr Sarah Maddocks, who led the research, said the substance was particularly effective against the bacteria, Streptococcus pyogenes , which can make wounds hard to treat. Although it is found naturally on the skin, when it infects wounds it can clump together to form a biofilm, or barrier, which means antibiotics are ineffective.

Dr Maddocks said: “People with this bacteria quite often find that the wound doesn’t heal properly. The biofilm makes them especially difficult to treat with antimicrobials because the film offers a layer of extra protection.

There is an urgent need to find innovative and effective ways of controlling wound infections that are unlikely to contribute to increased antimicrobial resistance

“We have grown these biofilms in the laboratory and found the manuka honey kills off some of the bacteria, but we’ve also found that it can inhibit the growth of these biofilms.”

The study, which is published in the online version of the Society for General Microbiology’s journal Microbiology , shows very small concentrations of the honey prevented the development of a biofilm and treating established biofilms with honey for just two hours killed up to 85% of bacteria within them.

It is now hoped it could play a much larger role in the NHS, which spends tens of millions of pounds a year treating patients whose wounds have failed to heal. In Wales alone, the researchers claim the annual cost to taxpayers in £180m. Its use could also help with the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Dr Maddocks said “There is an urgent need to find innovative and effective ways of controlling wound infections that are unlikely to contribute to increased antimicrobial resistance.

“Applying antibacterial agents directly to the skin to clear bacteria from wounds is cheaper than systemic antibiotics and may well complement antibiotic therapy in the future.

This is significant as chronic wounds account for up to 4% of healthcare expenses in the developed world

“This is significant as chronic wounds account for up to 4% of healthcare expenses in the developed world.”

The honey is derived from nectar collected by honey bees foraging on the manuka tree, found growing in New Zealand and parts of Australia. It is already used in licensed woundcare products, and is considered to be a viable alternative to topical treatments for surface wound infections.

However, the researchers point out there is some reluctance to use these products because the way honey works to fight infection is not known. This could be creating a barrier to its use within the NHS.

Earlier research has pointed to several factors, which taken together, may explain honey’s antimicrobial activity, including its high sugar content, low water content, low acidity, the presence of hydrogen peroxide and the presence of phytochemicals.

Manuka honey is thought to be particularly potent because it has high levels of a compound called dihydroxyacetone, which is present in the nectar of manuka flowers. This chemical produces methylglyoxal, a compound thought to have antibacterial and cell-killing properties.

NHS Forth Valley in Scotland has recognised the benefits of using wound dressings containing medical-grade manuka honey for some time. It was mentioned in the health board’s Wound Management Formulary, published last April, which is drawn up on the advice of specialist practitioners, nursing and pharmacy staff and takes into account patient comfort, safety, cost effectiveness and clinical benefits of various products.

It recommends the use of a triple layer of knitted viscose non- adherent wound dressing impregnated with medical-grade manuka honey, stating: “[The honey] maintains a moist wound environment and may reduce odours associated with malodorous, infected wounds. The osmotic action draws exudate from the wound bed which promotes autolytic debridement.

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