The Future

Using Honey as a Medicine

This liquid gold delicacy and common sugar substitute can do far more than sweeten your coffee. "Active honey" is commonly used throughout the modern medical world. But what exactly makes this honey so special, and how can you use honey as a medicine?

Many of us enjoy honey and incorporate it into our daily diet, whether as a natural sugar substitute for our coffee or simply as a sweet treat. But specific honey varieties known as “active” honey have also been utilised throughout history for their antibacterial and medicinal properties. 

Honey presenting unique antibacterial properties is found across different geographic regions worldwide, from Malaysia and Chile to Yemen in the Middle East. However, at the top of the list are Manuka and Jarrah honey, originating from New Zealand and Australia, respectively. 

What is active honey? 

Active honeys are characterised by the existence of bioactive compounds found within them. Hydrogen peroxide is one of its bioactive compounds, which has shown effectiveness as an antibacterial agent. However, active honey can also be influenced by additional factors such as osmotic pressure, pH and the presence of other phenolic compounds. 

Health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties are attributed to these phenolic compounds.1 As technology and analytics for laboratory testing have improved in recent times, we now have a better understanding of the nature of these bioactive components, where they originate from and how they enable us to use honey as a medicine.

The Science Behind Active Honey
Phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, are metabolites found and distributed within plants which are carried in the nectar and later expressed in the honey. Specific phenolic compounds produce different characteristics in honey. 

Medical uses of active honey

In the era of “Superbugs” and bacteria which seem to be outpacing the production of new and effective antibiotics, the efficacy of natural alternatives is being closely examined. This has also included discovering the medical uses of honey —particularly for wound care.

Large pharmaceutical companies, including UK-based Advancis Medical, are now utilising high-grade Manuka honey to impregnate medical dressings for advanced wound care. These have shown positive results against aggressive skin infections, specifically Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

Honey grading 

Active honey grading takes place in accredited laboratories internationally. Their chemical composition and activity levels are determined through quantitative assessment of chemical and DNA markers. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is one common laboratory method to analyse honey in solution. Active honey must meet certain specifications before it can be accredited and sold.

                                                                                                                                      Created by Andrea van den Berg

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