Honey: Sweet weapon to fight bacteria
Loved for its sweetness and distinct flavor, people have been consuming honey for thousands of years. And now, researchers say the natural food may be a powerful weapon in the fight against bacteria.
Even more importantly, study leaders say that honey can fight bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, a growing problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”
Honey may offer some help in the battle.
“The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance,” said study leader Susan M. Meschwitz, Ph.D., in a news release. “That is, it uses a combination of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols — all of which actively kill bacterial cells.” The findings were recently presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ASC), one of the largest scientific societies in the world.
Scientists say honey inhibits the formation of “biofilms,” which are communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria.
“Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics,” Meschwitz said.
Quorum sensing is a term to describe how bacteria interact with each other to form biofilms. In some cases, the quorum sensing “controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria’s ability to cause disease,” researchers said. Honey is also packed with powerful antioxidants, which make it a particularly effective antibacterial.
Health experts have been sounding the alarm about the overuse of antibiotics and the dangers it poses.
According to the CDC, patients receiving powerful antibiotics that treat a broad range of infections are up to 3 times more likely to get another infection from an even more resistant germ. And while antibiotics can save lives, they can also put patients at risk for a Clostridium difficile infection, deadly diarrhea that causes at least 250,000 infections and 14,000 deaths each year in hospitalized patients.
“Patients need to understand that antibiotics are appropriate only to treat bacterial infections—not viral infections,” says Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, a physician with Advocate Medical Group. “You need to make sure you see your physician first to confirm if what you have requires antibiotic treatment, or just rest and over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.”
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