Honey is a bacteria-killing power house.
Since ancient times, honey has been used to prevent wounds from getting infected. To learn more about the incredible powers of honey, check out the Honey: Bacteria’s Worst Enemy video.
Honey is a fluid that bees make from the flower nectar. Bees produce honey as a food source to maintain them through the season when flowers are scarce.
Along with other compounds, nectar contains mostly water, cucrose, glucose, and fructose. A bee sucks the nectar through her proboscus. Enzymes in the bee stomach break down glucose and cucrose to simple suga and increase acidity to kill bacteria. After the bee returns to the hive, it regurgitates the modified nectar. Worker bees then pass it around, reducing water content to 18%. Low water content prevents fungal and bacterial growth during storage in wax chambers.
Furher reading: How do bees make honey?
All together, honey contains approximately 180 types of different compounds. The honey color and composition depends on the bee species and what flowers the nectar came from. Its unique composition gives honey its health benefits.
Honey is a natural product rich in several phenolic compounds, enzymes, and sugars with antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial potential.Role of Honey in Advanced Wound Care
Processed versus raw honey
Raw honey is honey at its original stage as it comes from the beehive. Processed honey undergoes further steps such as pasteurization and filtration. However, processing destroys or removes some of the natural compounds that make raw honey superior for its health benefits. The compounds that get lost through processing of honey include:
- bee propolis
- certain vitamins and minerals
- amino acids
Bee pollen is quite nutritious and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anbimicrobial, and pain relieing properties
Propolis is the “mortar” bees use to build their hives. It has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and anti-cancer properties.
Further reading: How are raw honey and regular honey different?
Manuka honey is honey that comes from the nectar of tea tree that grows in Australia and New Zealand–manuka tree.
Most antibiotic action honey comes from hydrogen peroxide. But some types of honey, such as Manuka honey, contain other antimicrobial compounds.
Further reading: Manuka Honey
Wound care and sugar
High sugar content of honey alone destroys bacteria. Suggaring is an old wound care method. It works through osmosis. Because of its low water content, sugar draws moisture. Because bacteria need water to survive and multiply, removing water kills them. Further, sugar has been reported to enhance immune response and healing.
Further reading: Honey and Sugar in Open Wound Management
Raw honey and wound care
Every time Jasmine had surgery, she came home with an antibiotic prescription. They were all significant surgeries; I think it makes sense to prevent serious infections.
When JD had his mast cell tumor surgery, he was not put on antibiotics.
On the one hand, I was glad because I like to use antibiotics as sparingly as possible, and our vet thinks the same way. But, on the other hand, he had a relatively large hole at the tumor site and an incision on his chest where they harvested skin for his graft.
The original plan was to keep the wound open to the air, just preventing JD from licking it. JD, of course, had other plans, although the fashionable cone he was sporting.
The second day post-surgery
The second day after surgery, I felt his wound was starting to smell funny.
I still didn’t want to start antibiotics if I didn’t have to, but I was worried about infection. Mainly since the wound was relatively deep – skin and fascia removed all the way to tendons and muscle. So I contacted our vet and asked whether we should try some raw honey. Since Cookie’s paw pad was cut, we still had some raw Manuka honey at home.
We used honey on Cookie’s cut and never needed antibiotics even though the cut was relatively deep, and vets often do prescribe antibiotics for that as well.
That was the first time I’ve tried that, at the advice of one of my veterinary friends.
JD’s vet agreed that it was a good plan, so we started the honey treatment on JD’s wound. It carried us through the entire healing process, and the wound never got infected. First, we covered it lightly with a sock to keep the honey in place. Then, we changed the sock and re-applied the honey three times a day.
The use of honey for wound management dates back many centuries.
How does honey do it?
The anti-bacterial properties of honey are due to a complex interplay of its various components. Sugar had been used as well, but it seems honey, particularly Manuka honey, can do a better job. Honey can keep away infection and reduce inflammation and facilitate the healing process.
I wouldn’t try using any ol’ honey from a store. Some of these can have relatively low antibacterial activity and can be contaminated by pathogenic organisms.
We used raw Manuka honey and had outstanding results with it.
While antibacterial ointments are readily available, it would still mean antibiotics. I prefer to avoid those, and I’m happy with how the honey worked both times.
Of course, I wouldn’t use anything without discussing it with our vet first. But she thought it was a good idea and considering its results.