Honey has been around for centuries. With the advent of severe bacterial resistance to antibiotics researchers have realized the relevance and capability of honey’s unique antibacterial properties. Honey uses an arsenal of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols to kill bacterial cells. The bacterial cells are killed by a unique osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, drawing water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.
“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.
Honey impacts on the development and formation of biofilms, (communities of slimy disease causing bacteria), and affects quorum sensing, the mechanism by which biofilm bacteria communicate.In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria’s pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.
Meschowitz commented on the broad antibacterial and antioxidant activity displayed by honey: “Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics. We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity. We have separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds. In our antibacterial studies, we have been testing honey’s activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others.”
A previous study elucidated the mechanism of the molecular basis of the antibacterial activity of medical-grade honey and determined that bees added a protein to the honey called defensin-1. That protein has significant antibacterial, and anti-oxidant properties and is responsible for conveying those health benefit to honey.