Honey Fights Bacteria and Viruses, Could Be Better Than Antibiotics

Honey is a sweet food and medicine that nature has gifted us. Its history of medicinal use can be traced back 8,000 years. Sometimes, the therapeutic effects of honey surpass even those of medications, particularly its outstanding antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Honey’s Antibacterial Properties Are Superior to Antibiotics’

“Bacteria quickly learn how to fight off the effects of the antibiotic drugs, but they don’t have honey resistance,” Nural Cokcetin, a research fellow at the Australian Institute for Microbiology and Infection in the science faculty at the University of Technology Sydney, said in an interview with The Epoch Times.
Honey has been used to treat skin problems and wound infections for thousands of years. For instance, ancient Greeks and Egyptians would apply honey topically to the skin to treat wounds and burns. Honey’s effectiveness in treating wounds and eczema was also documented in Persian traditional medicine. Interestingly, the concept of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi causing wound infections during those historical periods might not have even been known.
The broad-spectrum antibacterial activity of honey has been increasingly recognized and substantiated. In recent years, the prevalence of wound infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria has become a major global health care challenge. Honey can disrupt biofilms that are formed by these resistant bacteria and sometimes penetrate the biofilm structure to eliminate the embedded bacteria. An article published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology in 2020 reported no documented cases of bacteria developing resistance to honey.
In clinical settings, medical-grade honey has been utilized in various ways. It’s formulated into topical ointments, dressings, and bandages for the treatment of postoperative wound infections, burns, necrotizing fasciitis, nonhealing wounds, boils, venous ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. Additionally, it has proven effective in both preventing and treating infections caused by multidrug-resistant microorganisms.
In vitro studies have shown that honey can kill Helicobacter pylori. Furthermore, oral consumption of honey can reduce the duration of bacterial diarrhea.
The antibacterial properties of honey originate from its inherent characteristics and a diverse array of components derived from both nectar-producing plants and bees themselves. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Key Antimicrobial Components

The antibacterial properties of honey originate from its inherent characteristics and a diverse array of components derived from both nectar-producing plants and bees themselves. Additionally, some of these components are formed during the maturation process of honey.

High Viscosity and pH

Honey has a high sugar content, reaching up to 82.5 percent. As a result, it has a viscous and syrupy consistency, exhibiting hygroscopic properties (ability to absorb moisture) and high osmolarity. Bacteria that come into contact with honey undergo dehydration and ultimately perish.
Honey is acidic due to its various organic acids, with a pH value ranging from 3.2 to 4.5. Bacteria can’t survive in honey; their optimal pH typically ranges between 6.5 and 7.5.

Primary Antibacterial Agent: Hydrogen Peroxide

An important enzyme in honey derived from bees facilitates the oxidation of glucose, resulting in the production of hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide is an effective bactericidal agent that can inhibit and kill microorganisms.

Interestingly, water is necessary to induce honey’s hydrogen peroxide production. The maximum level of hydrogen peroxide can be obtained by diluting honey to a concentration of 30 to 50 percent, according to a paper in the International Journal of Microbiology.

Bees Contribute Antibacterial Component Bee Defensin-1

Bee defensin-1 is another natural antibacterial component in honey originating from the honeybee’s hypopharyngeal gland.

Bee defensin-1 is an antimicrobial peptide that can kill various bacteria and microorganisms. Specifically, the defensin protein has been shown to create pores within the bacterial cell membrane, leading to cell death.

Additionally, bee defensin-1 can aid in wound healing by stimulating keratinocytes, the most common type of skin cell.

Unique Antibacterial Component in Manuka Honey: Methylglyoxal

Manuka honey is often mentioned in studies regarding the antibacterial effects of various kinds of honey. As a globally recognized honey with high antibacterial potency, it possesses a unique natural component called methylglyoxal (MGO).

After honeybees gather nectar from the flowers of manuka trees, a natural substance that’s found in the trees undergoes spontaneous dehydration, leading to the formation of MGO in the honey.

“The more of [methylglyoxal] there is, the more antibacterial that honey is,” Dee Carter, a professor from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, told The Epoch Times.

MGO exhibits remarkable antibacterial properties by itself. It can alter the structure of bacterial fimbriae and flagella (appendages), and induce damage to their cell membranes, ultimately resulting in cell death.

However, this substance is sensitive to heat. Heating manuka honey to 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C) can increase the levels of MGO, but heating it to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) results in the loss of MGO.

Honey’s Antiviral Properties May Reduce COVID-19 Complications

Honey not only possesses antibacterial properties but also exhibits antiviral effects, which help protect the body and boost the immune system. Many individuals find relief from symptoms of cold and respiratory illnesses by consuming honey water, and there’s a valid basis for this remedy.

Combats Influenza and COVID-19

MGO can inhibit the growth of enveloped viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
According to a study published in the Eurasian Journal of Medicine and Oncology in 2020, computer simulations revealed that multiple compounds found in honey can bind to the protease of SARS‑CoV‑2, effectively inhibiting its replication.
MGO in manuka honey can also inhibit the replication of influenza viruses, including drug-resistant strains.
Currently, scientists are researching the potential of MGO for managing and treating COVID-19.

Boosts the Immune System

Honey can activate several immune cells, enabling them to eliminate viruses effectively. For example, oligosaccharides that are present in honey can enhance the activity of natural killer cells. Additionally, certain immune cells can “remember” specific viruses during the antiviral response, offering future protection against the same viral invasions.
Honey can promote the proliferative activity of immune cells, thus increasing their quantity.

Promotes Autophagy

Honey can promote autophagy, which is crucial in combating deadly viruses such as SARS‑CoV‑2, which causes COVID-19. It’s an internal cellular process that involves the degradation and metabolism of cells, allowing for the removal and recycling of unwanted or damaged cells and impurities. This process contributes to the generation of healthier cells and promotes recovery.

Honey’s Anti-Inflammatory and Gut-Health Benefits

Inflammation is a common occurrence in bacterial or viral infections. Left unchecked, it can significantly harm the body, potentially leading to life-threatening complications.
Moreover, honey has been suggested to have a dual role in inflammation control: It can downregulate anti-inflammatory factors, thereby reducing inflammation damage, and stimulating the production of inflammatory mediators, promoting wound healing.
In one of Ms. Cokcetin’s studies, honey could reduce inflammation levels in the intestines. She attributes this effect to the abundant presence of phenolic compounds found in honey.

She explained that honey also contains oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, which are complex sugars. These compounds serve as prebiotics, supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Additionally, consuming honey promotes the production of short-chain fatty acids in the intestines.

Choosing Honey With Potent Properties

Generally, raw and darker honey varieties tend to have more robust efficacy.

Commercially available honey found on supermarket shelves differs from raw honey sold by beekeepers or at bazaars, as it’s generally pasteurized. Research has shown that heat processing can lower the antioxidant capacity of honey by 33.4 percent. Alternatively, you can also choose honey processed using high-pressure techniques.

Honey comes in a diverse range of colors, from light yellow to amber, dark red, and even nearly black. These colors reflect the varying composition of honey, such as polyphenols, minerals, and pollen. Numerous studies suggest that dark-colored honey generally contains higher levels of phenolic compounds and exhibits more potent activity.

To obtain manuka honey with exceptional antibacterial properties, it’s recommended to opt for pure honey sourced from New Zealand and Australia.

The manuka tree is exclusive to specific New Zealand and Australian regions, and its annual yield is limited. Certain products labeled as manuka honey may contain blends of other honey types, potentially affecting the honey’s properties. Furthermore, some of these products may even include low-quality ingredients such as sucrose.

Opting for single-origin honey sourced exclusively from the manuka tree and checking for its Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating is recommended. A higher UMF rating indicates higher levels of substances related to MGO. Some honey products also specify the amount of MGO in milligrams per kilogram.

However, manuka honey with a higher UMF rating may have a strong flavor that some people find pungent.

Ms. Cokcetin recalled that when she began her research on the antibacterial properties of honey, a professor she worked with said, “We’ve already got this great gift from nature that is a solution to superbugs; we just have to figure out how it works and why it works the way it does.”


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