Apart from its uniquely delicious taste, another reason why manuka honey has gained headline space as a superfood is thanks to its antibacterial properties. But this is no ordinary effect but a supercharged bacteria killer that has excited researchers because of the honey’s proven effectiveness against multiresistant bacteria and organisms, or MRSA.
What is MRSA and why should we care?
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacterial infection that has become resistant to antibiotics, which can prolong infections and make them difficult to treat and in the worst scenario result in death. The rise in MRSA bacteria has doctors around the world worried and the in the UK alone the cost of MRSA to the NHS is put at around one billion pounds1 every year, while several reports put the total cost of MRSA in the US at $34 billion.
Modern scourges in combination
Resistance to antibiotics has become such a serious threat that in July 2014 the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, commissioned an independent review into the economic impacts of resistance to antibiotics2. The results of this review make stark reading and suggest that by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will kill an additional 10 million people a year globally and cost $100 trillion3. MRSA bacteria are particular problems for treating skin and wound infections not only because we are living longer but thanks to two other scourges of the modern age: the rise in diabetes and obesity4.
Manuka honey to the rescue
There are references to honey being used for medical purposes dating back to ancient history, but who would have thought that something as natural as manuka honey could also be a medical super weapon? Given that nearly all manuka honey is produced in New Zealand it is not surprising too that the pioneering research into the MRSA-busting qualities of manuka honey were first researched in New Zealand by Dr Peter Molan, who is also credited as being the Godfather of manuka honey.
Dr Molan has researched manuka honey’s ability to inhibit various strains of bacteria and fungi, including antibiotic resistant bacteria5, and has produced various review papers on randomized controlled trials of honey in wound care, which have demonstrated the effectiveness of manuka honey in wound care products against antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria6.
Why manuka honey is special
So what is it that makes manuka honey different from the rest? All honey has to some extent an antiseptic effect because it contains hydrogen peroxide. The point about manuka is that is has an antibacterial effect that comes from something else, which is called non-peroxide activity (NPA). There are important properties that make this non-peroxide activity useful in treating bacteria: there is an enzyme in saliva and blood that breaks down hydrogen peroxide found in normal honey but it has no effect on manuka honey and its non-peroxide activity7 and this is why it is good for use in wounds.
Recent research using manuka honey against MRSA
In 2013, a research team at the University of Sydney conducted a study that combined manuka honey with antibiotics for treating wound infections and concluded that “a combination of honey and antibiotics may be an effective new antimicrobial therapy for chronic wound infections.”8 Researchers in Ireland in 2009 also examined the impact of using medical grade manuka honey to treat leg ulcers and confirmed the effectiveness of manuka honey and its lower incidence of infection9.
There are now many companies worldwide producing treatments based on 100% pure medical grade manuka honey, which is contributing to the increased demand for the honey on a global scale.
4 Muller P, Alber DG, Turnbull L, Schlothauer RC, Carter DA, et al. (2013) Synergism between Medihoney and Rifampicin against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
5 The antibacterial activity of honey and its role in treating diseases, P Molan, 2012
7 What’s special about Active Manuka Honey, P Molan, 2012