Honey a secret weapon in battle against antibiotic resistance

An antibiotic honey dressing. Source: Supplied

It may sound too sweet to be true, but research is underway to see whether honey could replace some antibiotic treatments.

If you had told Professor Liz Harry she would one day be researching honey as an antibiotic alternative she would have laughed.

But in the battle against increasing antibiotic resistance in Australia and around the world, honey could be the new secret weapon.

The medicinal use of honey has gone from a quirky alternative medicine to a serious research project – and Professor Harry is at its forefront.

She is the acting director of the ithree institute (infection, immunology and innovation) at the University of Technology, Sydney and is working as part of the Australian Honey Project, which is connected to the Rural Industry Research Development Corporation.

She is looking into the practical use of honey as an alternative to topical antibiotics.

“It doesn’t matter what antibiotics are used, bugs will always become resistant to it,” Professor Harry told SBS News.

“Honey has multiple antibiotic components in it.

“It doesn’t allow bacteria to rescue themselves or have a chance of surviving.”

Professor Harry said the use of honey as a medicine was not new.

“I didn’t realise honey was used since the dawn of time and was used up until the discovery of antibiotics,” she said.

Evidence has been found that even ancient cultures like the ancient Egyptians were convinced on honey’s healing powers.

She said her research aims to prove whether honey is effective at targeting a range of bacteria and whether is able to remain effective over long term use.

Honey as an antibiotic

Professor Harry uses premium New Zealand-produced Manuka honey that has been sterlised.

It is then used as a topical treatment – that is, treating wounds and infections on the skin - either as a dressing or in the form of a cream or a gel.

She said there had been considerable success in the use of honey this way, as well as using topical honey treatments in conjunction with oral antibiotics.

The honey is also able to remove dead cells from a wound, which is known as debriding the wound.

Professor Harry said she hoped patients and medical professionals would one day consider honey to be an alternative wound or post-operative treatment to the antibiotic creams and gels that were currently used by general practitioners and in hospitals.

“It would help to reduce the resistance to antibiotics,” she said.

“One of reasons was have this problem is we use a lot of antibiotics.”

Certain honey gels and creams have been available for a number of years, Professor Harry said but more research is still needed into why honey works the way it does.

The honey project is expected to be completed in October, 2019.

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