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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Humble Honey Kills Bacteria

Study: Honey Fights Bacteria That Cause Chronic Sinusitis
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 22, 2008 -- If you start poking around into the history of honey, you'll find the stuff is revered in many early cultures.

Honey is mentioned in the Bible, it was used to preserve corpses by the ancient Egyptians, was considered sacred during the time of Buddha, and the prophet Muhammad espoused its potential healing properties.

But it's only been in recent times that science has been able to prove and explain the benefits that honey holds.

Now a new study from researchers at the University of Ottawa shows honey to be effective in killing bacteria that cause chronic sinusitis.

Honey Kills Bacteria

Chronic sinusitis affects millions of people every year.

In chronic sinusitis, the mucous membranes in the sinus cavities become inflamed, causing headaches, stuffy nose, and difficulty breathing.

Though it can be caused by allergies, chronic sinusitis can also be caused by bacteria that colonize in the nose and sinuses.

That's where honey may help.

Researchers, led by Tala Alandejani, MD, at the University of Ottawa, tested two honeys, manuka and sidr.

Manuka honey comes from the manuka bush, also known as the tea tree bush, in New Zealand.

Sidr honey comes from the sidr tree in Yemen, an ancient and sacred tree mentioned in spiritual texts. It's one of the world's most expensive honeys.

Researchers singled out three particularly nasty bacteria: two strains of staph bacteria, MSSA (methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus) and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and one called Pseudomonas aeriginosa (PA).

The two types of honey were effective in killing the bacteria. Even bacteria growing in a biofilm, a thin, slimy layer formed by bacteria that affords resistance to antibiotics, were susceptible to honey.

The researchers also found that the two types of honey worked significantly better than an antibiotic against MSSA and MRSA, according to past research.

Here's the breakdown of results:

  • Sidr honey was 63% effective in killing MSSA.
  • Sidr honey was 73% effective in killing MRSA.
  • Sidr honey was 91% effective in killing PA.
  • Manuka honey was 82% effective in killing MSSA.
  • Manuka honey was 63% effective in killing MRSA.
  • Manuka honey was 91% effective in killing PA.

Scientists hope the results can help lead to a new treatment for people with chronic sinusitis.

One note of caution: Infants one year or younger should never be given honey because it could become toxic in their underformed intestinal tract, causing illness or even death.

The study is being presented at the 2008 American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery annual meeting in Chicago.

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