Friday 15 April 2011
Nestled between various forms of medicines in my cupboard such as paracetamol, aspirin, echinacea and even vitamin c sits a rather unassuming little plastic pot filled with something I consider to be my weapon of choice against a number of infections. In this pot is something not crafted by scientists in a pharmaceutical lab but crafted by nature - manuka honey.
For those of you unfamiliar with manuka honey, it's a dark golden brown honey made by bees which frequent the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium) which grows uncultivated throughout New Zealand - and it's recently been the subject of renewed scientific study.
So what makes manuka so special? The answer lies in its antibacterial properties which Scientists now believe could be used in conjunction with traditional antibiotics to fight a number of infections, particularly the 'superbugs' which plague hospitals. The benefits of manuka honey have been known by some for a very long time and its use in traditional/natural medicine is well documented but for the first time conventional medicine has begun to seriously investigate what makes this honey to special.
Professor Rose Cooper from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff has recently studied manuka and found that a specially filtered version of the honey was effective in preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to the body's tissues - a vital stage in the initiation of acute infections. Many bacteria also form a biofilm which acts like a strong layer of armour protecting them from antibiotics but if they cannot attach to tissues the formation of these biofilms is blocked - making the bacteria more susceptible to antibiotic treatment.
This is particularly welcome news for hospitals fighting superbugs especially as the research showed that manuka can make MRSA more sensitive to antibiotics such as oxacillin. Professor Copper said:
"This indicates that existing antibiotics may be more effective against drug-resistant infections if used in combination with manuka honey."
"What we need to do now is look at more combinations with antibiotics and do some clinical work in patients.
"It could be applied topically to wounds and used in combination with antibiotics to treat resistant infections"
It's important to remember however that the honey used in this research is a special medical grade and the antibacterial properties of honey vary enormously. This is not to say however, that shop-bought honey cannot be effective. Look out for manuka honey in dark plastic pots often found in health food stores and an increasing number of pharmacies. Many brands carry a "Unique Manuka Factor" (UMF) rating and the higher the UMF rating the more potent the antibacterial properties. There are a number of new manuka brands hitting the market however and not all offer especially brilliant antibacterial properties but as a general rule of thumb the quality of the product is usually reflected in the price.
For some the healing properties of manuka honey are old news but this renewed interest in this natural product offers a great deal of hope in the fight against infections, helps us all understand exactly why manuka is so special and reminds us that pharmaceutical and natural medicine don't always have to be at odds with each other.
Source: BBC News