The use of honey for wound healing has a history that dates back 4000 years, long before bacteria was discovered. The recorded use of honey has been noted in both the ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures. Modern researchers began investigating the medicinal use of honey in the early 20th century, but the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s halted further research.
Recent concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria have sparked renewed interest in the alternative and complementary use of honey for wound healing, especially when conventional treatments have failed. Reported to inhibit 80 species of bacteria, honey has a broad spectrum of antibacterial properties. An antifungal action has also been noted on yeast-cultured wounds.
Honey’s therapeutic action is osmotic; the high sugar content of honey draws moisture out of the bacteria cell, dehydrating the cell and inhibiting growth of microbes due to intracellular water loss. It has an osmolality sufficient to draw fluid from wound exudate. When sugar is evaluated on its own for a therapeutic agent for wound healing, the results aren’t significant. It’s thought that the combination of ingredients in honey provide an unsuitable environment for the growth of bacteria.
Honey contains an enzyme that produces low levels of hydrogen peroxide when diluted. The low level action of hydrogen peroxide helps to cleanse and debride the wound bed, thus contributing to the healing process through granulation and epithelialization and increasing blood and oxygen supply to the wound. Hydrogen peroxide has a notoriously bad reputation in wound care due to its potential for tissue damage and inflammation; the hydrogen peroxide effect of honey is significantly diluted so as to exhibit a beneficial effect.
Honey provides a moisture barrier, which keeps the wound hydrated. This nonstick barrier helps to decrease injury and pain to the wound site during dressing changes. Honey is also credited with decreasing wound healing time due to its anti-inflammatory effects. The reduction in wound exudate reduces inflammation, which, in turn, reduces the patient’s discomfort and pain.
Medical-grade honey can shorten healing times and reduce pain, scarring, and wound odor. Perhaps it’s time to consider the practical use of medical-grade honey for wound healing.