For thousands of years honey has been recommended to help wound healing. Can this simple remedy be scientifically plausible and how does it work? To this day, the exact mechanisms of action are unclear, but is this generally true or not? Can you slap some honey on that skinned knee and heal it up right fast? The most recent research has focused on honey having anti-bacterial properties. So, considering we are having all sorts of problems with antibiotic resistance and resulting infections that are difficult to treat, honey would seem to be a GREAT option as an alternative. So is this so?
The reality is that although there is some preliminary scientific data that does confirm anti-bacterial properties, it is not enough to improve wound healing based on a very extensive review of medical literature by the Cochrane Collaboration. Before you conclude that this might be some drug company supported and biased review organization, the Cochrane Collaboration is actually an international network of more than 28,000 dedicated people from over 100 countries who review health questions just like this one to help doctors and people make the very best decisions in their health care and one which Cureology uses to evaluate issues.
To be fair, there is enough evidence out there to support honey’s wound healing that the FDA approved a product called MEDIHONEY® a few years back. These honey impregnated dressings contain active Leptospermum Honey from New Zealand. For that approval there had to be not only basic science and plausibility but also clinical evidence which included several large scale randomized controlled studies. Those studies suggested enough benefit in hard to heal wounds (e.g. diabetic or venous stasis ulcers) that it was approved.
A Cochrane review from 2008 was actually more favorable and validated some of this evidence, but the most recent one on the same topic is an update and notes that honey does not help wound healing and may in fact interfere with the healing of some wounds. Please read the actual review below. The one caveat is that it is possible that only SOME honey variants are active as a wound accelerating agent and this is something to consider. We may not have the best mix yet. Also, keep in mind that it is only RAW honey that has possible benefits, such as Manuka honey. Don’t even think about applying processed honey you find in supermarkets to wounds as this will most definitely lead to infection.
So, the search continues and we have some other reviews that we are just about to publish on natural wound healing, but honey for wound healing appears not to be as good of an answer that we were hoping for. That’s not to say that honey has no health benefits. It does, and lots of them! It’s just that topical application on wounds seems not to be one of those clear benefits, at least not according to this solid review.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Feb 28;2:CD005083. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005083.pub3.
Honey as a topical treatment for wounds.
Jull AB, Walker N, Deshpande S.
School ofNursing,University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honey is a viscous, supersaturated sugar solution derived from nectar gathered and modified by the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honey has been used since ancient times as a remedy in wound care. Evidence from animal studies and some trials has suggested that honey may accelerate wound healing.
The objective was to determine whether honey increases the rate of healing in acute wounds (e.g. burns, lacerations) and chronic wounds (e.g. skin ulcers, infected surgical wounds).
For this first update of the review we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (searched 13 June 2012); The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 5); Ovid MEDLINE (2008 to May Week 5 2012); Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations 12 June 2012); Ovid EMBASE (2008 to 2012 Week 23); and EBSCO CINAHL (2008 to 8 June 2012).
Randomised and quasi-randomised trials that evaluated honey as a treatment for any sort of acute or chronic wound were sought. There was no restriction in terms of source, date of publication or language. Wound healing was the primary endpoint.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS:
Data from eligible trials were extracted and summarised by one review author, using a data extraction sheet, and independently verified by a second review author.
We identified 25 trials (with a total of 2987 participants) that met the inclusion criteria, including six new trials that were added to this update. In acute wounds, three trials evaluated the effect of honey in acute lacerations, abrasions or minor surgical wounds and 12 trials evaluated the effect of honey in burns. In chronic wounds, two trials evaluated the effect of honey in venous leg ulcers, and single trials investigated its effect in infected post-operative wounds, pressure injuries, cutaneous Lieshmaniasis, diabetic foot ulcers and Fournier’s gangrene. Three trials recruited people into mixed groups of chronic or acute wounds. Most trials were at high or unclear risk of bias. In acute wounds, specifically partial-thickness burns, honey might reduce time to healing compared with some conventional dressings (WMD -4.68 days, 95%CI -4.28 to -5.09 days), but, when compared with early excision and grafting, honey delays healing in partial- and full-thickness burns (WMD 13.6 days, 95% CI 10.02 to 17.18 days). In chronic wounds, honey does not significantly increase healing in venous leg ulcers when used as an adjuvant to compression (RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.38), and may delay healing in cutaneous Leishmaniasis when used as an adjuvant to meglumine antimoniate compared to meglumine antimoniate alone (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.01).
Honey dressings do not increase rates of healing significantly in venous leg ulcers when used as an adjuvant to compression. Honey may delay healing in partial- and full-thickness burns in comparison to early excision and grafting, and in cutaneous Leishmaniasis when used as an adjuvant with meglumine antimoniate. Honey might be superior to some conventional dressing materials, but there is considerable uncertainty about the replicability and applicability of this evidence. There is insufficient evidence to guide clinical practice in other types of wounds, and purchasers should refrain from providing honey dressings for routine use until sufficient evidence of effect is available.
Update of Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(4):CD005083.