The Healing Properties of UMF Manuka Honey
Because the enzyme in honey that produces hydrogen peroxide is destroyed by heating and exposure to light, unpasteurised honey should be used, and it should be stored in a cool place and be protected from light. If necessary warm honey to liquefy it, it should be heated to no more than 37º C. If it is considered necessary to sterilise honey, this can be done by gamma radiation without loss of antibacterial activity. Gamma irradiated honey is available commercially. (In none of the clinical reports of use of honey on wounds, was the honey used sterilised. No case of infection resulting from the use of honey has been reported).
The antibacterial activity of honey is due primarily to hydrogen peroxide generated by the action of an enzyme that the bees add to the nectar, but there are some floral sources that provide additional antibacterial components. The body tissues and serum contain an enzyme, catalase, that breaks down hydrogen peroxide - how much of the honeys antibacterial activity is lost through this is not known. The antibacterial components that come from the nectar are not broken down by this enzyme. Until comparative clinical trials are carried out to determine which type of antibacterial activity is more effective, it may be best to use manuka honey, as this contains hydrogen peroxide activity as well as the component that comes from the nectar.
Until research is carried out to ascertain the components of honey responsible for all of it's therapeutic effects, it will not be possible to fully standardise honey to obtain optimal effectiveness in wound management. However, where the antiseptic would dressing is requited then the standardisation for this effect is possible. Several brands of honey with standardised levels of antibacterial activity are commercially available in Australia and New Zealand, but even where these are not available, it is possible to assay the level of antibacterial activity of locally available honey by a simple procedure in a microbiology laboratory.
Other therapeutic properties of honey besides its antibacterial activity are also likely to vary. An anti-inflammatory action and a stimulatory effect on growth of new blood capillaries and on the growth of granulation tissue and epithelial cells have been observed clinically and in histological studies. The components responsible for these effects have not been identified, but the anti-inflammatory action may be due to antioxidants, the level of which varies in honey. The stimulation of tissue growth may be due to the supply of nutrients by honey, as nutrification of wounds is known to hasten the healing process: the level of a wide range of micronutrients that occur in honey also varies.
Any honey can be expected to suppress infection in wounds because of its high sugar content, but dressings of sugar on a wound have to be changed more frequently than honey dressings do to maintain a concentration of sugar that is inhibitory to bacteria, as honey has additional antibacterial components. Since microbiological studies have shown more than one hundred-fold differences in potency of the antibacterial activity of various honey, best results would be expected if a honey with a high level of antibacterial activity were used in the management of infected wounds.
In almost all of these reports, honey is referred to generically, there being no indication given of any awareness to the variability that generally is found in natural products. Yet the ancient physicians were aware of the differences in the therapeutic value of honeys available to them: Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) discussing the differences in honeys, referred to pale honey 'being good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds': and Dioscorides (c.50 AD) stated that the pale yellow honey from Attica was the best, being 'good for all rotten and hollow ulcers'.
Honey is one of the oldest known medicines that has continued to be used up to the present times in folk medicine. It's use has been rediscovered in later times by the medical profession, especially for dressing wounds. The numerous reports of the effectiveness of honey in wound management, including reports of several randomised controlled trials, have recently been reviewed, rapid clearance of infection from the treated wounds being a commonly recorded observation.