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Honey no better than antibiotics for ‘blood cleaning’

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Medical grade honey is not the antibacterial agent that clinicians thought it might be, according to a new study.

It was hoped that honey would offer a better alternative to antibiotics for patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis - a procedure used to clean the blood in patients with kidney failure.

More than 200 000 patients around the world undergo the treatment each year, although further uptake of the procedure has been limited due to the risks of infection.

Such infection can have life-threatening consequences, and although it is usually treated with antibiotics, the types of antibiotics that are suitable for use in these circumstances are effective against only a narrow range of infections, and are increasingly contributing to antibiotic resistance.

Honey was touted as an effective alternative to antibiotics, but Australian researchers have quashed these hopes.

Applying medical grade honey - produced by comprehensively sterilising standard honey - to wound sites in patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis, they found it shows no advantages over standard antibiotic use.

There was no significant difference between the average time to first infection in the honey or control groups. Patients in the honey group had an average of 16 months until their first infection, while patients in the control group had an average of 17-7 months.

Although the time to first infection for patients with diabetes was significantly reduced in the honey group to an average of 11.6 months, the risk of peritonitis was almost twice as high compared to patients with diabetes in the control group.

“While the fact that honey doesn’t contribute to antibacterial resistance makes it an attractive option for preventing infection at wound sites,” commented professor David Johnson at the Australasian Kidney Trials Network. “Our results suggest that honey cannot be routinely recommended for the prevention of infections related to peritoneal dialysis.”

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  • 12 Comments

Readers' comments (12)

  • "BLOOD CLEANING" !

    The NT once again dives to the depths only usually achieved by the most gross of tabloid news paper.

    Ms "editor" it is time to take stock.............

    Professional journal or comic ?

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  • sounds like the ? 'good' old days before evidence based nursing when we were persuaded to use egg white and oxygen for the treatment of pressure sores, vinegar booties for reducing fevers, potato or quark poultices for infections and various herbal teas for various complaints, cognac as a sleeping draught, ale and sherry as appetite stimulants, voodoo wax candles to unblock ears, etc., etc! and some European nurses still swear by some of these cures.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 10-Oct-2013 1:19 pm

    At first sight a 'quark poultice' sounds very modern indeed, and quite tricky to create, to me.

    This also struck me: 'While the fact that honey doesn’t contribute to antibacterial resistance makes it an attractive option for preventing infection at wound sites,” commented professor David Johnson at the Australasian Kidney Trials Network'.

    Unless the honey is solely working because it is basically a very concentrated sugar solution, presumably any anti-bacterial properties are due to 'trace' chemicals within the honey, which are anti-bacterial: why wouldn't bacteria be capable of becoming resistant to those chemicals ? So 'while honey doesn't contribute to antibacterial resistance' perhaps needs a little thought/elaboration/more specificity ?

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  • michael stone | 10-Oct-2013 2:17 pm

    maybe I confused you with the type of quark - which is a dairy product made from soured milk. I am quite sure it is an ancient grandma's cure and widely used, probably most places other than the UK. It is effective for its cooling properties in inflammatory conditions.

    As you suggest it is tricky to create, although I am sure it should not be. it does not require any costly equipment such as linear accelerator as the quark can be purchased very cheaply from local supermarkets (even Sainsbury's, I believe).

    I was advised by a physio to do them after hospitalisation following a fractured tibia but I managed to get myself in a most awful mess with it even though you are supposed to put it between layers of cotton or linen. Mine went very wrong and I wasn't very mobile at the time and had great difficulty accessing the shower to clean myself up, and never used one again.

    As for the potato poultices, I was given a course with full demonstration on how to make one of these but never had recourse to use one preferring more traditional methods drawn from modern evidence based medicine, although I did succumb (more by force) to using the egg white and oxygen back in the dark ages of my student days as it was current practice at that time.

    As for the honey, I have little experience apart from enjoying it and its possible benefits internally although in desperation I recently tried out medicinal Manoukian honey (but not the strongest because of the exorbitant cost) on a tiny scab which refused to heal and which for some time I considered too tiny to bring to a doctor's attention, only a little after that to discover it was a basal cell carcinoma whose only swift treatment was surgical removal.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 10-Oct-2013 2:56 pm

    I had guessed there was another type of quark - it seems unlikely to be a typo - but the 'joke' was too obvious to resist !

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  • michael stone | 11-Oct-2013 2:49 pm

    from Anonymous | 10-Oct-2013 2:56 pm

    enjoyed it! especially as I had friends in CERN who were involved with Quarks many moons ago. I had a recent guided tour there just after the opening of the Hadron Collider where it was all very well presented and simply explained even for dummies so now I am now fairly much of a God Particle expert, as well as a cheesy quark one!

    I can thoroughly recommend the dairy variety with a little sugar, fruit, honey, etc. but would have reservations, after my experiences, about recommending it as a medicinal compress!

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  • Shouldn't we rejoice that a substance that doesn't carry the same side effects and risks of over use of antibiotics is no worse than the antibiotics and better in some cases?

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  • michael stone

    Helen Watson | 11-Oct-2013 7:28 pm

    Possibly.

    But the honey used was 'medicalised' - i.e. 'standardised and controlled', and the simple idea that 'honey works as well as pharma stuff' gets into some very tricky issues about 'only using things we are know to be well-defined in their actions'. Not that all pharmaceuticals are 'well-defined in their actions': quite a few act differently in different patients, anyway.

    You end up back at the 'herbalism' argument - nobody sensible argues that some herbal remedies might not work (because some plants will kill you if you eat them - so 'some plants are active' is beyond argument), but most medics prefer something easier to standardise.

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  • michael stone

    This one seems to have gone quiet on the 'honey' thread, so on the assumption that the original topic has died, I'll chuck in a bit about the particle physics off-topic 'joke' thread.

    My understanding of the theory, is that there are bosuns and coxswains, and there is something called a 'Cox presence' which pervades the known universe.

    There are also various different properties: there is 'charm' (Tony is plus 2, Gordon is minus 2) and 'strangeness' (Boris is plus 2).

    There is also a concept that for two 'identical' particles, you cannot be sure which is where, and they 'become mixed up' (think Dave and Nick).

    And there is a peculiar property called 'quantum entanglement', which means that once connected, however much you think you have separated two particles, they remain connected (again, think and Nick and Dave, and Nick's struggle to get free of the influence of Dave).

    There is also a big research facility called CHURN, where scientists mix together lots of different particles and give them a good stir (hence CHURN).

    I think I've got that all correct - but I'm not 100% sure. Hope this helps.

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  • Pussy

    This is Daily Mail talk!!! Are you a medical journal or what?

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