University of Guelph researchers use honey to heal

By Katie Hartai

A team of busy bees at the University of Guelph are researching the healing powers of mother nature’s liquid gold—raw honey. The medical benefits of honey were initially recognized thousands of years ago by ancient civilizations, when it was used to treat baldness, sore throats, burns, and in the healing of wounds, according to a 1992 article from the academic journal Bee World. Recent experimentation performed by Karol Mathews at Ontario Veterinary College, along with the manager of the University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre Paul Kelly, and University of Guelph professor of environmental sciences Ernesto Guzman, suggests applying honey as performed historically, is superior to many modern methods of treatment. The sweet and sticky substance produced by bees is composed of a sugar, vitamin, mineral, and enzyme mixture that aids wounds throughout the healing process, according to Mathews’ recent work in Compendium: Continuing Education For Practicing Vets. When properly dressed, the honey compound creates an ideal setting for recovery by providing a moist healing environment, fighting infection, reducing inflammation, promoting rapid healing, and minimizing scarring. It destroys invading bacteria without the use of accustomed antibiotics making it a more natural, less painful, and financially feasible option for patients. Honey has been used clinically to treat a number of conditions, with recent research confirming its successful use on cuts, various degrees of burns, bed sores, skin ulcers, surgical wounds, and large infected wounds caused by trauma, according to Bee World’s article. Mathews said she has been using honey for many years and is pleased with the results. She said she was heavily involved with the specific testing performed by the research team at the University of Guelph that aimed to discover what bacteria honey can kill and at what level of dilution. She said any locally produced honey with high levels of antibacterial activity is a promising wound treatment. “I believe all honey in its whole form will work, but to assess potential potency, we decided to look at how diluted the honey can be and still [kill bacteria].” While Mathews’ work mainly shows how honey can help animals heal, Derma Sciences, Inc. has developed a line of “MediHoney” products that are currently in trial in Canada. According to the company’s website, the line has quickly grown to see world wide use. But honey may be harder to find. Bee Keeper Paul Kelly of the Honey Bee Research Centre at the University of Guelph expressed his concern about the current bee decline. “We have two big problems right now. Varroa mites are a very significant parasite, and the past couple years we have seen significant losses of honey bees caused by insecticide drift from treated corn seeds,” he said. Although these issues raise concern about the loss of honey as a precious healing ointment, and on a more catastrophic level, reduction of natural pollination, Kelly is hopeful we will get past them. - Read