How honey could help kill drug-resistant bacteria

Honey is pretty benign to people, but to smaller organisms it means sweet, sweet death. Honey's historically been used throughout the world in medicine, and a new study indicates that honey can stop the spread of MRSA.

Back in the day, honey was used to preserve the dead in certain societies' embalming processes. Modern medicine continues the tradition of using honey as an antibacterial, but there is some confusion about how honey kills off these nasty little bugs.

New research sheds light on how honey is an antibacterial assassin. It looks like honey takes out bacteria in two different ways. First, it acts as a blockade — honey keeps many common types of bacteria from attaching itself to living tissue, thus cutting off its shelter and some of its food supply.

Honey also goes on the offensive, taking out the bacteria's common defense against antibiotics. When bacteria group together they form a biofilm. They find a solid surface in a liquid-rich environment and start excreting goop. This goop is slimy and adhesive, letting the bacteria cling to the surface, and to each other.

Everyday biofilms include tooth plaque, the disgusting slime that builds up in a shower or sink drain, and layers of algae on river rocks. Heartwarmingly, the biofilm is most often made up of a number of different bacteria, all clinging together and contributing their slime. Not so heartwarmingly, the combined strength and sliminess makes it hard to treat the bacteria with antibiotics. The study indicates that honey keeps the biofilm from forming, letting antibiotics take hold.

Honey is effective against several different kinds of bacteria commonly found in wounds and in hospitals. Impressively, it's even effective against MRSA, the boogeyman of the hospital system. Patients with MRSA often require surgery to scrape away infected flesh when antibiotics fail — a touch of sweetness could save patients from life-threatening infections.

[Via Scientific American and Bionews Online]