For centuries honey has been the home remedy of choice for many afflictions. It soothes the throat, it’s good for the stomach, it improves our natural defences against microbes – there’s no end to its beneficial uses.
Little wonder, then, that every neighbourhood pharmacy sells a whole range of products containing honey. Now researchers at the Amsterdam Medical Centre (AMC) intend to use honey as a real medicine and maybe even as an alternative for antibiotics.
Honey is already being used as standard issue medication in the treatment of wounds. Recently, a honey-based ointment has been introduced on the market, which is remarkably effective on slow-healing wounds that resist normal treatment. The honey in this special ointment has an anti-microbial and soothing effect and also keeps the bandages from sticking to the wound.
This ointment has been developed by the Dutch company Bfactory, an enterprise which closely cooperates with the University of Wageningen. Dr Tineke Creemers, General Manager of Bfactory, explains what standards honey has to meet to be acceptable as regular medicine:
“The trick is to make sure the honey is the same quality at all times and that its enzyme levels are as high as possible. This is because the natural enzymes in the honey give it its anti-bacterial properties. Furthermore, doctors cannot use a medicine that varies in strength, hence the need for constant quality.”
Keeping the quality constant is surprisingly simple: the bees of Bfactory follow a strict diet. This is easily controlled by only allowing the bees to forage in closed surroundings, in this case glasshouses. What’s more, the little worker bees only get to eat the nectar of flowers that guarantee the very highest concentration of enzymes. All other plants are banned. Accordingly, most of the research efforts are directed at the hunt for those plant species that give the best results.
Revamil is a honey-based hydrophilic gel which stimulates healing and protects the wound against infection.
While the researchers at the AMC agree that honey-based wound dressing is a success, they now intend to take another step forward; using honey as an effective alternative for antibiotics, especially in the treatment of bacterial infections of the stomach and the lower intestines. As researcher Dr Paul Kwakman explains:
“There is an end to the use of antibiotics. Resistance is becoming an ever bigger problem so we really are desperate for an alternative”. Dr Kwakman is lucky in that several plant species have pollen that naturally contains very special proteins. These proteins closely resemble peptides, human proteins that play a crucial role in our natural defences against illness. Through genetic modification, these plants can be made to produce proteins identical to human peptides. When bees then make honey from this genetically modified pollen, the peptides end up in that honey and are perfectly preserved.
There is no risk of bacterial resistance against this type of medicine because the working principle has nothing in common with antibiotics. No toxic agent is introduced in the body, but instead our natural defences are given an extra dose of peptides to fight off disease. Since these peptides are identical to human proteins our body won’t regard them as ‘foreign’ and thus they remain as effective as the first time they were applied.
Letting bees do the work
But why does it have to be so complicated? Why go through all the trouble of first getting plants to produce peptides, bees to only eat peptide-laden pollen, and then to harvest this very special honey? Why not simply put the peptides in a pill? The suggestion makes Dr Paul Kwakman smile a little:
“Bees can do the job far better than we could ever hope to do. They extract far purer peptides from the pollen at much lower costs. Besides, the high sugar level in honey is not only an excellent means of preserving the peptides for a very long time, it also tastes good. Taking your medicine in this way is so much nicer than swallowing pills, not to mention getting an injection. It’s only logical that the first patients who will benefit from honey-therapy will be babies with antibioticsresistant infections of the intestines.” -end
positive news like this sure brightens up my day. I find honey as one of best product ever produced by someone, or in this case by something – the sometimes can be dangerous bees. I use honey practically everyday, in my tea, marinades, dessert, toasts etc.I even once went to a bee farm just to see how bees produce them.
eventhough just by looking at the above picture full of bees makes me shiver (‘ got stung by a vicious wasp in the past) the benefit these bees give makes me want to buzz them with love. imagine an alternative for antibiotics that is naturally produced..im all for that!