What's the Buzz About Medical Grade Honey?

Apitherapy News     Nursing: July 2014 - Volume 44 - Issue 7 - p 59     June 26, 2014

What's medical-grade honey? What are its uses?—L.L., FLA.

Kimberley Oropeza, BSN, RN, WCC, replies: Several civilizations used honey to treat wounds over the course of 4,000 years.1 It lost conventional popularity after the discovery of antibiotics in the 20th century, but practitioners are now giving this ancient remedy another look due to the need for effective and economical products that fight infection and limit antibiotic resistance.

Honey, a hyperosmolar substance produced by bees, is about 20% water and 80% sugar. It also contains enzymes, amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and organic acids. The exact composition varies greatly depending on the location and type of plant from which the bees collected nectar.

Medical-grade honey has been standardized through gamma irradiation, filtration, and lab-controlled conditions, ensuring it's free from contaminants. The honey most commonly in use today comes from bees that collect pollen from tea trees in New Zealand and Australia. Also known as manuka honey, it has the highest level of antibacterial activity of all honey.

Honey is currently used to fight bacterial and fungal infections, promote autolytic debridement, and control malodorous wounds. It has many properties that contribute to wound healing. It kills Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens as well as some fungi and yeasts. This makes it useful against various organisms, including drug-resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus. Honey has been particularly successful in treating wounds resistant to traditional antibiotics. The acidic properties of honey keep the pH relatively low (3.5 to 6), which inhibits bacterial growth and promotes healing in alkaline wounds that are otherwise difficult to heal.

Honey is also an effective deodorizer of malodorous wounds through the bacteria's consumption of sugar. When bacteria in the wound metabolize amino acids, materials that cause foul odors, such as ammonia, amines, and sulfur, are created. Bacteria consume the glucose in the honey instead of the amino acids, decreasing the production of foul-smelling substances.

The osmotic property of honey draws fluid out of the wound, creating an anti-inflammatory response. Honey promotes autolytic debridement, which produces a moist healing environment, enabling healing…

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