Honey has been used as a wound treatment for thousands of years. Before the advent of antibiotics it was common for medical professionals to recommend the application of honey to cuts and burns to help with healing. In the last few decades there has been a growing amount of clinical evidence that has shown the effectiveness of honey in this application.
The physical properties of honey alone have a positive impact on the wound healing environment. Honey is acidic with a pH of 3.2-4.5. It is well known that topical acidification of wounds increases the release of oxygen from hemoglobin which promotes healing. The high sugar content in honey causes it to absorb water from the wound. While this may sound like something that wouldn’t be good for a wound, the blood flow under the area is sufficient to replace any lost moisture. This flow of moisture from the body into the honey creates an outflow of lymph similar to what is done in negative pressure wound therapy. Drawing water from the wound also draws water from bacterial cells, which inhibits their growth.
Another benefit is honey’s ability to release hydrogen peroxide. This is due to an enzyme in honey called glucose oxidase which is added by the honey bee. Normally this enzyme is inactive due to the low water content in honey. However, when honey becomes diluted as is the case when it draws moisture from a wound, this enzyme becomes active and will create hydrogen peroxide.
Honey also has a long history of being anti-inflammatory. Clinical trials and observations have shown honey reduces inflammation in wounds and burns, provides a soothing effect and minimizes scarring.
Different types of honey have varying degrees of efficacy. You may have heard of Manuka honey which is made from the nectar of the jelly bush in New Zealand. It has shown great promise in treating chronic wounds and previously non-healing wounds. Manuka honey is used in Medihoney, a product used to treat chronic wounds and burns.
We use our raw honey around the house for any scrapes, cuts or burns. With two kids cuts and scrapes are the norm during spring, summer and fall and we have pretty much ditched any topical antibiotic ointments. If you tear up calluses on your hands in the gym or even at work we've used honey with success in those situations too.
So the next time you reach for the topical antibiotic ointment try some raw honey!