Using Honey to Heal

With a rich history in ancient science and culture, the use of honey for wound healing is taking root again in modern day medicine-particularly for patients with cancer.

One of the first known references to honey use in wound care dates back to 2000 BC. And records suggest that Egyptians documented their recipes on papyrus rolls and that Hippocrates used honey combined with vinegar as a pain killer. Since that time, honey as a treatment for wounds was often forgotten in favor of new but rudimentary procedures and now-debunked treatment methods, but the practice survived in remote areas of the world that lack the means for conventional medicine. Honey for wound care was beginning to resurge in the early 1900s when antibiotics arrived on the scene.1

As recently as the mid-1990s, the use of honey for wound care was still avoided without regard for its potential antibacterial benefits. However, as antibiotic resistance has increased and infected wounds have become more problematic, honey has again found a place in clinical wound care. Today, sterilized honey can be used for pain control, mucositis wound autolytic debridement, malodorous wounds, infected and fungal wounds, and inflammation.2 Studies have also provided support for the use of honey to treat gastritis, central line sites, drains and tube insertion sites and even during laparoscopic oncologic surgery to decrease infection.3,4

Applications in Cancer Care
For many men and women fighting cancer, additional comorbidities such as diabetes and heart disease can make wound healing challenging compared to the general population. Many oncology patients find the idea of a natural product appealing because their traditional treatments can include aggressive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments can affect healthy cells as they attack cancer cells.

Manuka honey is harvested from the hives of bees that pollinate the Leptospermum Manuka bush in New Zealand, where pesticides, antibiotics and chemicals for agriculture are prohibited. The honey is then sterilized with gamma irradiation to destroy any harmful bacterial. In 2007, the FDA approved a new wound care dressing whose active ingredient is Manuka honey. Medihoney provides slow and gentle autolytic debridement of infected or necrotic tissue in tumor wounds.5

In addition to autolytic debridement, Medihoney offers pain control, odor and edema reduction and protection against many other bacteria (i.e., methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).6

Specific Contributions to Care
Medihoney differs from other wound treatment methods because its osmotic activity aids in autolytic debridement by prompting an ongoing outflow of lymphatic fluid to break down necrotic/slough tissue.7 It also reduces edema and increases the oxygen flow to the wound bed. The low pH of Medihoney helps decrease slough by decreasing proteases. The lower pH optimizes the wound bed for healing and allows the cascade of wound healing to continue without the addition of another treatment product.8

Manuka honey preparations such as Medihoney are new innovations, but the science, research and practice of using honey for wound care isone that has truly stood the test of time.

Patrice Dillow is a certified wound, ostomy and continence nurse and an advanced practice registered nurse at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill.

1. Biglari B, et al. Multicentre prospective observational study on professional wound care using honey (Medihoney). Int Wound J. 2013;10(3):252-259.

2. Majtan J. Honey: an immuno-modulator in wound healing. Wound Repair Regen. 2014;22(2):187-192.

3. Pipicelli G, Tatti P. Therapeutic properties of honey. Health. 2009;1(4):281-283.

4. Johnson D, et al. The Honeypot Study Protocol: A randomized controlled trial of exit-site application of Medihoney Antibacterial Wound Gel for the prevention of catheter-associated infections in peritoneal dialysis patients. Perit Dial Int. 2009;29(3):303-309.

5. Simon A, et al. Wound care with antibacterial honey (Medihoney) in pediatric hematology-oncology. Support Care Cancer. 2006;14(1):91-97.

6. Blaser G, et al. Effect of medical honey on wounds colonized or infected with MRSA. J Wound Care. 2007;16(8):325-328.

7. Evans J. Efficacy of medical grade honey as an autolytic debridement agent. Wounds UK. 2013; 9(1):30-36.

8. Gethin G, et al. The impact of Manuka honey dressings on the surface pH of chronic wounds. Int Wound J. 2008;5(2):185-194.

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