Honey – Natural Antibiotic

Image: Honey: Nature's Antibiotic

Image: Honey: Nature’s Antibiotic

You may have noticed that your honey never seems to develop mold or bacterial contamination, even when it isn’t refrigerated after opening.  We now know why this is: honey has innate anti-microbial activity. Cool. Honey is a natural antibiotic! Read more to find out what it is about honey that makes it a natural antibiotic, and also how it can help kill bacteria that are forming biofilm (and causing chronic infections).

Honey is a natural antibiotic !!  Who knew?

Well, it seems that ancient humans knew:  For over 2 thousand years humans have used honey applied topically to treat a variety of ailments.  Only recently have we found scientific evidence to help understand honey’s antibiotic activity.
It is now well established that honey helps inhibit the growth of a wide variety of bacteria.  There are even honey-containing wound gels that help eliminate the dreaded MRSA (see ManukaMedical in resources, below).  Cool.
And you may have heard about the role of biofilms in chronic infections (including rhinosinusitis)?

Well, honey has been shown to be effective in killing drug-resistant, biofilm-forming bacteria that are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis, including MRSA and pseudomonas.  Very cool !!

Why is honey such a great natural antibiotic?

4 Reasons:

  • Osmotic effect – high concentration of 2 monosaccharides (sugars), with low water content – draws water out of bacteria (dehydrates them), making it extremely difficult for them to grow in the presence of honey
  • Hydrogen peroxide – the glucose oxidase in honey slowly generates hydrogen peroxide from the sugars; as you know, hydrogen peroxide is an excellent antiseptic.  Thus, honey is a natural slow-release antiseptic
  • The acid – low pH (acidity) of honey naturally prevents growth of bacteria
  • It’s got mojo:  honey has variable amounts of methylglyoxal (MGO – let’s just call it “mojo”), which is another natural antibacterial agent

How to use this information:

What does this mean for you or your little one’s sinusitis?  Well, adding honey to your sinus saline rinses can be hugely beneficial, especially for those with chronic and recurrent sinusitis.

In my clinical practice, I recommend this for children who never seem to completely recover from their sinusitis.  The addition of honey (along with some other tricks) has proven to be beneficial for these kids.

Check out recent blog post, “Sinus Rinses: if once/day is good, is 4x/day even better?,” for making your own saline rinse recipe that includes Manuka honey.

Alternatively, simply add some honey (same proportions as recipe in blog post) to your store-bought saline solution.  Either way, this may be just the ticket to eliminating the bacterial biofilm that is causing your (or your child’s) chronic sinusitis problem.

We’ll discuss biofilms and their role in chronic infections in a future article.

Not all honey is created equal:

In fact, the Manuka honey from New Zealand, and Sidr honey from Yemen, seem to have antimicrobial properties above and beyond your average honey.  Medicinal-grade Manuka has more mojo, and is reported to have other (as yet unidentified) micronutrient agents that act to enhance its antibiotic activity.

Exotic:

Note that these specialty, medicinal honeys can get very pricey.  They can be difficult to find locally.  The explosion in alternative and natural remedies (like those reviewed on this blog) has increased demand for Manuka honey in the past year.  Check the boogor doctor’s Amazon Store on the right column (disclaimer: Amazon affiliate) for quality Manuka honey at moderate price (still steep).

Local:

You might try your local farmer’s market for more reasonably-priced varieties collected close to home.

 It is also suggested, though not proven, that eating raw local honey can help build immune tolerance to local allergens.   Though not as potent as Manuka, they will still have some antibiotic activity, like all honey does for the reasons outlined above.  Also, you will be helping your local economy, and helping an apiarist (the term for a beekeeper; beekeeping = apiculture) to stay in business.   We won’t go into the difficulties that honey bees are having right now, but support them in any way possible.

Summary:

This post does not even touch on the many, many other uses for Manuka honey that are being discovered, or re-discovered.  Check some of the resources below for more.

Note that “pasteurizing” honey by heating it kills the hydrogen peroxide and any other active enzymes in it.  Therefore, whether using Manuka or locally grown honey, use it raw.

WARNING: All honey, but especially raw honey, contains the spores of botulinus. While this is not a problem for adults, infants under the age of one year may not have enough stomach acid to prevent these spores from developing into botulism, a deadly poison. For the same reason, I advise caution for children or adults who are on medications that suppress stomach acid using proton-pump inhibitor (although I have not seen it reported in the medical literature), or anyone with an immune deficiency!

NOTE: when adding Manuka honey to saline sinus rinse, warm gently to dissolve – over-heating will kill useful enzymes and proteins.

Check the boogor doctor’s Amazon Store (right side of page) for a couple reasonably-priced (for Manuka) samples of Manuka honey and other resources for doing saline nasal rinses.  The Sidr honey from Yemen is much more difficult to obtain, and there is much less scientific medical information available about Sidr honey than there is for Manuka honey.

To download this article as a free PDF file: http://wp.me/PR4iB-s7

Thanks for visiting, and see you here again.  I appreciate your comments and questions.  Keep ‘em coming.  And please, “be excellent to one another.”

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Stay informed, stay healthy.

Best of health and success to you and your families.

Until next time, remember … you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose (unless you’re a boogor doctor :~D)

Resources:

http://bio.waikato.ac.nz/honey/special.shtml for what’s so special about Manuka honey.

Effectiveness of honey on Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Alandejani, et al. (2009). Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, vol. 141: 114-118.

Honey: nutritional and medicinal value.  Khan, et al. (2007) International Journal of Clinical Practice, vol. 61(10): 1705-1707.

A Comparison Between Medical Grade Honey and Table Honeys in Relation to Antimicrobial Efficacy:  http://bit.ly/bcv8lO (Online Journal, WOUNDS;  publication date: Feb. 12, 2009)

Nice review of honey’s medicinal uses by WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/medicinal-uses-of-honey

http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/

http://www.medicalhoney.com/

http://manukahoneyproducts.com/

How bacteria build a “shield” against your immune system – BIOFILM: http://bit.ly/2mv2La

Comments

  1. My daughter was diagnosed with a sinus infection over two weeks ago. I have been doing the saline rinse with Manuka honey now since then, cut out dairy because of the mucus and I always give her veggies, fruits, raw food bars, etc. so she eats well. I guess she got it after a cold. I am also giving her herbal biotics and the zylitol spray in her nose. I had it cultured last wednesday and they said she has Moraxella Catrrhilis bacteria. I asked if I could continue with the rinses and probiotics (Bio-K), etc. to see if I can get rid of it myself. So I made another appt. for this coming Tuesday to get recultured. My question is why is it taking so long to go away and should I continue this and never take the antibiotics? What do you recommend?

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Lilla,
      I am sorry to hear that your daughter is ill, but so glad to hear that you are doing all the right things. There will be times when we live well, do all the right things, but still become ill. She is fortunate to have a mother so attuned to striving for health, as opposed to treating “disease”. I hope that her pediatrician knows more about how her M.cat. was diagnosed, where the culture was taken, what her diet and other history are. Unless your little girl has symptoms – seems ill, has fevers, or any of the other symptoms of sinusitis in children – I would not re-culture her. Also: depending on where the culture was collected from, it may not be useful. For example, the bacteria in the nose are NOT the same as those that we find in the sinuses. That means that taking a culture from the nose is not reliable in treating sinusitis.
      For symptoms of sinusitis in children, see my article on littlestomaks.com:
      http://www.littlestomaks.com/2010/11/where-food-and-sinusitis-meetreflux/
      My recommendation is to treat the patient, not the cultures, not their CT scans, or any other “abnormal” lab test.
      Thanks again for visiting, and please keep us all posted on how things are going so that we can ALL learn,
      RF

  2. Hi, I have had sinus infections all through my life and I had surgery on my sinuses to correct a badly deviated septum and correct a few other small areas to improve drainage. It did wonders for me. If I do get a bought of sinusitis how long would you recommend doing the rinse with the Manuka honey for? A couple days, week? Thanks.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Paul,
      I don’t give specific medical advice without knowing you and the details of your medical history, and without a thorough exam. In a generic sense, most folks achieve optimal effects from the nasal saline rinse (+/- Manuka honey) within 4-5 days. If you have recurrent sinusitis problems or chronic rhinitis, daily or every-other-day nasal saline rinses can help maintain optimal sinus health. Be sure to check our “Dr. Hana’s” website for some great resources on nasal saline rinses, including videos demonstrating best methods. I personally use her system – NO financial connection – and it’s great!
      Thanks for tuning in and especially for your thoughtful comment. Do give nasal saline rinses with Manuka a try. You will be surprised by how fast that eliminates sinusitis. Stay tuned for more every week. Tell your friends with kids.
      RF

  3. Hi Dr. B and Paul. I thought I would post that after doing the rinse for 2 and half weeks and giving her a spoon of manuka daily along with 3 teaspoons of Bio-K (probiotics) her infection disappeared! I feel more confident as a mother to trust my own instincts! Manuka honey and Bio-K are both very powerful healers! I wish you quick healing:)

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Lilla!!
      Thank you for sharing that! I agree – trust your instincts.
      Best of health to you and Naia, and Happy Holidays.
      RF

  4. Dr. Faust,

    Is it likely that using honey in a sinus rinse would cause a reaction in someone with ragweed allergies?

    Thanks!

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Marcy,
      That’s a great question. Of all the people doing these rinses, many of them have ragweed allergies and they are not worse from the honey. There are some experts who speculate the ingestion of local raw honey (not the exotic Manuka or others honeys) are made from local pollen-bearing flowers, and that ingestion may act like sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). I have searched the medical literature and do not find any support for that. Furthermore, most honey bees make their honey from nectar from fragrant and sweet flowers – clover, orange blossoms apple blossoms, things like that – not from ragweed. So idea of ingesting local honey as immunotherapy may just be wishful thinking.
      Now, there may be people out there who are allergic to bees. If they are allergic to bee proteins that are transferred during the honey making process, they may react to the honey. Again, it is difficult to find any support for this by searching the medical literature.
      Thank you so much for visiting, and for taking the time to leave a comment and question! Please stay with us and return for more.
      RF

  5. Hi Russel,

    Does sinus rinse with manuka honey also help person with fungal sinusitis? Waiting for your reply..

    Thanks

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Ali,
      I have not seen any clinical trial results on the use of Manuka honey for fungal sinusitis. However, there are many reports in the peer-reviewed medical and scientific literature on how Manuka honey is anti-fungal for many types of fungus.
      We can expect more studies using Manuka added to nasal rinses for sinusitis conditions – fungal and bacterial.
      Thanks for the question.
      RF

  6. Hi everyone, you know what is amazing for sinus, throat and chest is Bee Propolis. This is what the bees use to protect their own hives from bacteria and viruses! You can buy the tincture at a health food store:)

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Lilla,
      Thank you for that. I have heard that, but have not used it myself, and have yet to review the medical and scientific literature for research results.
      Thank you for visiting, and for sharing!
      RF

  7. I tried the Manuka honey on several occasions and I got pain in my maxillary sinus that lasted all day each time I’ve done it, so I’ve abandoned the manuka honey and just do saline rinses. Why would this be? I bend over so the solution actually goes into my sinuses. Is this the proper application for manuka or just for saline? (Is it suppose to actually go into the sinuses or just flush the area where they open into?)

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Judy,
      First: I have no idea.
      Next: It many not be necessary to actually rinse or flush the sinuses. Many people believe that the benefit of saline nasal rinses is that the rinse reduces swelling of the tissue lining the nasal airways. This reduces the swelling of the natural sinus openings, allowing for the normal sinus clearing mechanisms (“muco-ciliary clearance”) to function properly.
      My advice? Try simply rinsing your nasal passages in an upright position. That’s how I do it. That’s what Dr. Hana Solomon (Nasopure.com) recommends.
      Thanks for visiting, and sharing.
      Please stop back to let us know how it goes.
      RF

  8. Hello,

    I can easily correlate most of the things mentioned by the readers(and writers ) on this page with my 7 yr old son.I read about Manuka honey and got the 16+ MHF from Amazon. I gave one spoon to my son whose troubles include sinusitis related cough/Refuxx/GERD like symptoms. He immediately got hives that night and the following day. I don’t have trouble trying natural things and ofcourse I have been desperate and still am. This was like 3 months ago and so nothing much to worry about now. Does anybody have experienced the same ? Ofcourse it went away after a day or two of Zyrtec/Benadryl. I am thinking of now getting the 10+ instead. His cough just comes and goes(hides somewhere ) in a very irregular way including summer months(yes – even in 100 F temp ) but increases a lot during the later winter and spring days. He feels a lot tired as compared to the kind of energy the kids of hist age put on display. We just keep telling him don’t do this and that, don’t laugh, don’t run and what not. He has been tested negative for allergies. The only thing that has worked on him so far is an Homeopathic medicine called Arsenicum or Arsenic Album. Ofcourse, I am not recommending anything here because homeopathic medicines works in a very different way and is given after looking at several tens of symptoms – not just one or two. One shoe size fits all would not work here. However, yes it has saved us a lot of trouble this summer season. I will update as whether it holds good in the winter days as well or not. We have been doing Nasal rinse in winter months. However, he consistenly seems to undergoing post nasal drips(just my guess ) and probably coughs because of it. GERD too sems to be a problem or the reflux. It has been a very tiring experience just to find what exactly bothers him regardless of what the correct medicince would be. One day he coughed all day in school and got a note back from his teacher “coughed all day”. He was only in KG at that time. He has never had an asthma attack. Another good part(god’s grace ) is though he might cough during day time and odd hours, he never coughs in the night except for one or two times in past 2 years. Once he sleeps, he is good. His is mostly day time cough or a cough which persists as long as he is awake. So far, in winter days, his day always starts with cough and then subsides. Revisits him most of the times. Last year nothing much happened until his Christmas vacation started which was like From Dec 17 and he was not even on any kind of medicince. After that however, it started going pretty much down hill. From march end this year(after he underwent adenoiddectormy and few days after that) he has been on the homeopathic med and has been doing much mich better. I have been just going one day after another since last 2 years except for the past 3 months since when he has been on homeopathic medicine. Nothing looks defiinitive and still everything looks possible on what it could be. Any sharing of knowledge is kindly appreciated. The reason for doing Adneoidectomy was that in his CT scan during that time wen it was done last winter/spring it was all “Grey”(read mucous ) and as doctor mentions it has to be “black” ( read air ). The cough didn’t stop after that.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Dave,
      It sounds like you should stay away from Manuka, and maybe all honey, for your son. Developing hives is a sign of serious reaction.
      I couldn’t agree more with your comment that one size does not fit all! That is why I try to provide tips for reducint inflammation in several areas of the Unified Airway model. Whereas I am not experienced or well-trained in homeopathy, I have some patients who report great success with some homeopathic remedies. My recommendation is to work with a trustworthy and experienced naturopathic doctor (ND) or homeopath for those remedies. You should be in very good hands for ND’s and MD’s in northern California!
      In my experience, an adenoidectomy is one of those procedures that is relatively low-risk, but has high reward with regard to airway inflammation – especially for chronic sinusitis and asthma.
      Please let us know how things go for your boy!
      Thanks for visiting, and for sharing.
      RF

      • Hello Dr. Faust,

        To use Manuka honey for CRS, is there a particular UMF+ factor required. I understand eating Manuka might not be same as using it in Nasal rinse as just like with pro-biotic, the good bacteria might not last by the time they reach lower intestine ? Is there any other way to make sure that Manuka might kick-in so as to make it more benefical and directly fight the CRS bacteria.

        • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

          Hi Dave,
          Because the Manuka honey is diluted when included in the nasal saline rinse, I basically use the highest UMF+ factor that I “can afford”. As you have already found out, the higher the UMF, the higher the price. I generally use UMF+16 or higher. It does NOT seem to adversely affect the “good guys” in our microbiome, but it does help our immune systems to eliminate some “bad guys” such as Strep, Staph, and Pseudomonas – all potentially biofilm-formers
          When I use Manuka in my own nasal saline rinse, I use it at a fairly high concentration, perhaps a tablespoon per bottle. That seems to be about the limit for the amount that will dissolve when the salt pack is included. That’s a lot of ‘solute’ to get into solution. It’s pretty saturated solution, but that’s the goal: high osmolarity to draw excess fluids from those swollen tissues. Nice effect when you have a swollen, congested nose and sinuses :))
          And, despite the high concentration, the anti-inflammatory effect of the honey makes it pretty soothing.
          RF

  9. Hi Dr,

    Great article

    I thought it might be worth noting that hydorgen peroxide that you mentioned in your article is not actually stable. It is very important to understand that what makes Manuka Honey different to other honeys is that true active Manuka Honey has what is known as non peroxide activity. This activity stays stable when exposed to heat and light etc. There is a lot of Manuka honey in the market that is rated for its Total activity (hydrogen peroxide). This honey is actually no more antibacterial than sugar as hydrogen peroxide is easily depleted. This you tube clip gives a pretty good explanation of NPA. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbg8wRA167I Methylgloxal is an indicator for non peroxide activity. To explain this, without Methylglyoxal, (which is also unique to active Manuka honey) the honey cannot have non peroxide activity. However, it is my understanding that Methylglyoxal is one of 5 elements that produce the functional benefits of Manuka honey. There is also a huge amount of research soon to be released on the anti-inflammatory effects of the honey.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi James,
      Thanks for sharing this video – this is one of my favorites. And thanks for your kind comment.
      But we should be completely transparent about a couple points here:
      Dr. Watson is in business to sell Manuka honey, so he has a vested interest in emphasizing its unique properties (as do you, for that matter). On the one hand, he points out that honey has been used for thousands of years as an anti-microbial, for wound healing, and anti-inflammatory properties. In the very next breath, he states that only Manuka really has those properties. In fact, honey has been used for thousands of years as an anti-microbial, and for wound healing, precisely because ALL honeys possess these properties. The honeys that have been used for thousands of years were local honeys around the world, NOT Manuka honey. To suggest that only Manuka honey has these properties is misleading. As I tried to clarify in my article, the anti-microbial properties arise from multiple factors, not merely the peroxide; further, most honeys have most of these factors. Manuka honey has at least one, and perhaps more, unique factors that confer an extra anti-microbial activity to Manuka honeys.
      I agree that the peroxide effect is relatively short-lived. That is true for ALL peroxide, including liquid hydrogen peroxide, and yet most households keep a bottle of hydrogen peroxide for antiseptic applications. Its usefulness drops off over time, but continues to be effective, just like honey peroxide. Of course, the benefits of honey is not dependent on a single factor, but multiple factors. I tried to outline some of these in non-technical language in my article here.
      As you say, research is ongoing. I wish that this research were better funded so that the evidence to support Manuka were here sooner. I am also a huge advocate of Manuka. Keep spreading the word at ManukaMed.com!
      Thanks for reading, and for sharing,
      RF

  10. where can i Find garcinia cambogia says:

    My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find many of
    your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest
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    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Always open to guest-articles.
      Please email me about your interest (boogordoctor@gmail.com)
      Thx!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] like Nasal Saline Rinses, Manuka honey, Probiotics and Xylitol, all proven to significantly reduce upper respiratory infections [...]

  2. [...] this may include additives for chronic sinusitis (thought to be caused by bacterial biofilm) – honey / Manuka honey – baby shampoo – [...]

  3. [...] (preferably Manuka honey) or natural sugar, [...]

  4. [...] of the more popular articles on this site is about how honey is nature’s antibiotic. It’s time to expand on that article. Based on research that was published in 2012 (and a little [...]

  5. [...] have previously reviewed the antibiotic, antimicrobial properties of honey here. We have reviewed the special properties of Manuka honey. And if you struggle with chronic [...]

  6. […] you were a kid. For the other three things that make honey such a great antimicrobial, read this: Honey – Nature’s Antibiotic. Of course, you already know about adding Manuka honey to your nasal saline rinse if you struggle […]

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