Honey, that light, sweet nectar that brightens your tea, can also pack a major nutritional punch. Honey is chock full of antioxidants, could help fight seasonal allergies, and according to new research presented at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), may battle antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called antibiotic resistance one of the “world’s most pressing public health problems,” and one that is growing quickly. It is no exaggeration to call any means of combating this devastating trend lifesaving.
What is antibiotic resistance and why is it such a big deal?
Antibiotics have revolutionized health care the world over. By destroying harmful bacteria, these and similar drugs (together called antimicrobial agents) have battled illness and prevented death from infectious diseases for more than 70 years. If antibiotics were to lose their effectiveness, the result on public health would be nothing short of devastating, yet that is precisely what is happening. According to the CDC, antibiotics have been so widely used for so long that many of the organisms they were designed to kill have begun to adapt to them, making these drugs less effective. As antimicrobial-resistant organisms become more prevalent, disease spreads more quickly. Hospital stays get longer and more expensive, and in some cases, patients can die as a result of infection.
The dangers of antibiotic resistance are great, which is precisely why the CDC says it has made antibiotic resistance one of its top concerns — and it is not the only major health organization to do so. Groups like the Food and Drug Administration are also working to reduce antibiotic resistance, especially in veterinary or agricultural settings, and the Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance is a coalition of several agencies working together to minimize the trend. Other global organizations have taken similar steps. If research recently presented at the ACS proves true — that something as simple and widely available as honey can prevent or minimize antibiotic resistance — the findings are significant.
The idea that honey can boost and otherwise improve human health is not new: Not only is the condiment packed with antioxidants, but may even be a natural treatment for allergies. According to a March 16 ACS press release, medical professionals can even use honey in topical dressings to help prevent infections. Now researchers believe honey’s natural antibacterial properties could be a significant weapon in the battle against antibiotic resistance.
“The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance,” study leader Susan M. Meschwitz, Ph.D., of Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., said in the ACS release. She notes that honey has a combination of properties known to kill bacterial cells, including hydrogen peroxide, an osmotic effect, acidity, a high sugar concentration and polypohenois. The osmetic effect in particular, which results from honey’s high sugar content, draws water from bacterial cells, effectively killing them through dehydration.
The ACS release notes that additional studies have shown that honey can inhibit the formation of biofilms, which are communities of disease-causing bacteria. “Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics,” Meschwitz said. One other advantage honey has over conventional antibiotics: It does not target bacterias’ essential growth processes, which, in simpler terms, means the bacteria do not build up resistance to it as they do with conventional drugs.
The study abstract is available on NewsWise.com. Though the study is only preliminary, it may prove to be significant. With time, other researchers can explore just how effective honey may be in combating antibiotic resistance — and how patients can make the most of this medicinal superpower. In the interim, you can take other steps to minimize antibiotic resistance.
More ways to battle antibiotic resistance
Smearing honey on your morning toast or stirring it into your tea may help prevent antibiotic resistance, but it is not the only way to minimize risk. The CDC recommends taking the following steps to protect yourself — and your loved ones — from this dangerous health threat:
- Do not take antibiotics for colds or the flu: These drugs kill bacteria — not viruses. Researching other ways to prevent the flu and other illnesses can help.
- Take antibiotics only when your doctor deems it entirely necessary, finding other ways to treat your symptoms whenever possible.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully when using antibiotics, and be sure to complete the full course — without skipped doses — even after your symptoms subside. Also note that some medications or supplements, like zinc, can interfere with antibiotics, so may need to be put on hold until your treatment is complete.
- If you do have leftover antibiotics for any reason, discard them. Note, however, that flushing medication down the sink or toilet or throwing it in the garbage can actually contribute to antibiotic resistance. The FDA offers advice on how to properly dispose of unused medications.
- Never take antibiotics prescribed to somebody else since it may not be appropriate for your illness. The CDC says taking the wrong medication can delay treatment, allowing bacteria to multiply.
You can learn more about antibiotics and antibiotic-resistance by talking with your healthcare provider. You can also look to organizations like the CDC and the FDA.(source)