Taking good care of your incision after surgery is important because of the following reasons. You will reduce discomfort and pain, lower the risk on wound infection, help your wound heal faster, and limit scarring.
Honey-based wound dressings have significant benefits over other types of dressings yet they are still not widely accepted and embraced by modern medicine. Topical honey has historically been a renowned remedy but since the invention of penicillin its use got less popular and honey’s unique properties were forgotten.
Here’s an overview of some of honey’s most important wound healing benefits. This information may help you make a well-informed decision on how to treat your post-op wound and thus enhance your healing process.
Honey, a medicine used by all ancient civilizations
Topical use of honey has been a valuable source in traditional medicine since the dawn of mankind. Sumerian clay tablets dated from about 2000 BC mention the use of honey as a medicine, an ointment, as well as an offering to the gods.
In fact, honey is considered one of the oldest known wound dressings. Honey was used by ancient Egyptians and many other civilizations as a topical dressing for wounds and injuries. Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides used it in 50 A.D. for sunburn and infected wounds.
Honey’s healing properties are mentioned in the Torah, Koran, and Bible.
Honey’s potential in wound care is very underutilized
And even though positive findings on the use of honey in wound care are widely reported, many medical professionals are still reluctant to take on board the age old wisdom of honey as an effective wound dressing.
Discarded as an alternative, unproven remedy topical honey is not considered a viable wound care solution by most medical professionals.
It is merely perceived as an archaic remnant of folk medicine. Which is a shame since there are some significant benefits of taking this natural cure into consideration when determining the most appropriate treatment for a (surgical) wound.
- Commonly (topical) antibiotic and or synthetic drugs such as metronidazole, tetracycline and other medications with potentially nasty side effects are prescribed. Not to mention the growing antibiotic resistance in bacteria is becoming a real threat.
- Also gauze pads applied with surgical tape aren’t exactly the most sophisticated way of stimulating post-operation wound healing.
- Various wound dressings and topical antiseptics are effective at fighting off infections but cause tissue damage. Honey does not. It has “a direct nutrient effect”.
- Surgical wound infections prolong hospital stay, increase overal costs and increase the risk on complications, may interfere with the initial goal of the surgery, and even cause death (morbidity and mortality).
Taking these facts into account you would think that more effort and thinking would be put into enhancing the post-surgery wound healing process. Which is where medical grade honey infused wound dressings come into play.
“The therapeutic potential of uncontaminated, pure honey is grossly underutilized. It is widely available in most communities and although the mechanism of action of several of its properties remains obscure and needs further investigation, the time has now come for conventional medicine to lift the blinds off this ‘traditional remedy’ and give it its due recognition.” from an editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (1989).
Renewed interest in a very useful, all-natural wound care modality
Luckily, honey as a wound care agent has been rediscovered. Worldwide recognition of (manuka) honey for medical use is increasing.
Evidence for its efficacy is provided by ongoing studies and laboratory research. Currently there’s only limited well-designed clinical research on its benefits. Nonetheless, new trials are confirming some of these traditional uses and more reports of its effectiveness are published.
Its medical purposes can be roughly divided into two areas. On the one hand topical applications such as skin care and on the other hand internal use such as the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions.
The healing property of honey is due to the fact that it offers antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection. Its immunomodulatory property is relevant to wound repair too. Source: PubMed: Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity.
Here’s how can honey help your surgical wound heal faster
Since ancient times honey has been known to possess antimicrobial property as well as wound-healing activity. In other words, it prevents infections, is very effective in fighting off existing infections but also boosts the wound healing process.
According to Dr. Molan as well as other well-respected manuka honey researchers clinical observations recorded are that:
- infection is rapidly cleared,
- inflammation, swelling and pain are quickly reduced,
- odor is reduced,
- sloughing of necrotic tissue is induced (casting off dead tissue),
- granulation is accelerated (formation of new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels on the wound surface),
- and epithelialization is quickened (the process that covers a wound with epithelial tissue which is the white and pink tissue / the outside layer of cells that covers all the free, open surfaces of the body including the skin, and mucous membranes),
- no pain during dressing changes and no tearing away of newly formed tissue,
- and healing occurs rapidly with minimal scarring.
Several researchers have noted on honey dressings ability to speed healing.
- Descottes mentions “wounds becoming closed in a spectacular fashion in 90% of cases, sometimes in a few days”.
- Blomfield suggests that “honey promotes healing of ulcers and burns better than any other local application used before”.
Source: Waikato University, Honey Research Unit
Why honey is such an effectice wound care product
Honey is thought to have a direct nutrient effect on regenerating tissue because it contains a wide range of amino acids, vitamins and trace elements in addition to large quantities of readily assimilable sugars.
Honey is also referred to as a phytomedicine which means a herbal or botanical medicine. Honey contains minerals, vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, K and beta-carotene, enzymes, essential oils, flavonoids, terpenes and polyphenols, which may all play a role in its medicinal qualities.
The vitamin C content of honey, which is typically more than three times higher than that in serum, and may be many times higher, could be of particular importance as because of the essential role of this vitamin in collagen synthesis.
Honey is an excellent antibacterial agent (and healing process stimulant) because of the following properties:
- Acidity. Honey has a pH of between 3.2 and 4.5. This means, when not diluted, it is acidic enough to slow down or prevent the growth of many species of bacteria.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in honey is known to inhibit bacteria. The human body however, breaks down hydrogen peroxide. Also exposure to light and heat (e.g. most commercially available pasteurised honeys) reduce H2o2.
- Osmolarity. Honey consists mostly of sugars which subtract water away from bacteria. This renders bacteria inactive. The process also draws lymph from a wound, dissolved nutrients present in the lymph provide nutrition for regenerating tissue.
- Phytochemical factors. These are the additional antibacterial properties of honey aside from the aforementioned. Also referred to as MGO or UMF.
Another traditional type of topical wound care are silver dressings. Recent knowledge makes it clear that honey has some advantages over silver.
Honey dressings compared to silver dressings
- Healing proved to be faster with honey, with an average time of 15 days, rather than 17 days with silver sulfadiazine. However, 90% of the patients receiving honey treatment had healed within 14 days, compared to just 52% of the silver sulfadiazine.
- In the honey treated patients, 44 had positive swab cultures on admission. After just one week of treatment, 90% were sterile. In the silver group, 42 patients had positive swabs on admission and all showed persistent infection one week later.
- The average hospital stay with honey treated wounds was 22 days, whereas those treated with silver sulfadiazine needed a further ten days in which to recover from their wounds.
Why manuka honey / Medihoney?
All types of honey have antimicrobial properties. This is due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide. However, in manuka honey, which is the most researched honey, there is an additional, non-peroxide property.
This ability demonstrates significant antibacterial effects even when the hydrogen peroxide activity is blocked. This properties is referred to as UMF (unique manuka factor) or MGO which stands for methylgyoxal.
Manuka honey is sourced in New Zealand from bees that frequent the Manuka bush (Leptospermum Scoparium) which grows throughout the country.
- It is the most researched type of honey for the management of wounds, burns, and other skin ailments.
- It is the only type of honey that has been shown in randomized controlled studies to help heal wounds that have stalled under first-line treatment.
- Derived from the nectar of the Leptospermum bush it is unique because it maintains effectiveness even in the presence of wound fluid.
The ‘magic’ of Manuka honey
Active Manuka honey contains high quantities of non-peroxide antibacterial compounds. The high level of methylglyoxal in Manuka honey is unique, as is the agent which doubles the non-peroxide antibacterial activity of the methylglyoxal. Only some of the honey sold as Manuka honey has this non-peroxide antibacterial activity.
The non-peroxide activity in Manuka honey is unaffected by the catalase enzyme present in body tissue and serum. This enzyme breaks down hydrogen peroxide found in other types of honey reducing the effectiveness of any healing properties.
The enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide in honey is destroyed by heat and light. The non-peroxide antibacterial reaction in Manuka honey is completely stable, so it keeps its activity in storage.
The enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide:
- In honey becomes active only when the honey is diluted. The non-peroxide reaction is full strength in undiluted Manuka honey and provides a stronger antibacterial action when used on infected tissues
- Is rendered inactive by stomach acid
- In honeys needs oxygen to be able to work, so may have reduced effectiveness under wound dressings or in wound cavities in the stomach. With non-peroxide antibacterial activity, Active Manuka Honey is active in all situations
- Could be destroyed by the protein-digesting enzymes in wound fluids.
- Non-peroxide Active Manuka honey is more effective than honey with hydrogen peroxide against some forms of bacteria.
- It is about twice as effective as other honey against E-coli and Enterococci, both common types of infection in wounds.
- Active Manuka honey/ Medihoney absorbs deeper into skin tissues than other types of honey
- Active Manuka honey was proven to be more effective than other honey against Helicobacter pylori, a cause of peptic ulcers.
Manuka honey research
Researchers at the University of Waikato have been investigating the properties of Manuka honey for nearly 30 years. They found out some very interesting facts about honey during their research and trials. After the results of their work were published in scientific journals an influx of activity took place with people interested in active Manuka honey.
All honeys have antibacterial properties, which vary widely in potency. Some honeys have as much antibacterial qualities as sugar, while others can be diluted more than 100-fold and still prevent the growth of bacteria.
Active Manuka honey
The term “Active Manuka Honey” was created to properly describe and market a product which is vastly different to other honeys that are marketed as Manuka honey and has been the term “Active” has been a prefix since 1998.
Honey without a measurable level of non-peroxide antibacterial activity is likely to have been produced from nectar sources other than Manuka. The term active is unprotected and no guarantee for quality.
Tips on how to enhance your surgical wound healing process
Be pro-active. It is not recommended to remove tape strips (e.g. Steri-Strips) from your incisions unless your doctor tells you to but you can ask if you are allowed to start using a Medihoney dressing instead. Especially if you are prone to wound infections or excessive scarring this could be to your advantage.
When still in the hospital, if you, for any reason, think you run the risk of catching MRSA infection, ask for Medihoney. These dressings have shown to protect wounds against bacteria, even complex antibiotic-resistant strains like MRSA and cure them from the superbug as well.
Do not use rubbing alcohol, iodine, or hydrogen peroxide when cleaning your incision wound because these substances can harm the tissue and slow wound healing.
Commonly used antiseptics such as antiseptics such as hydrogenperoxide, povidone iodine, acetic acid, chlorohexadine, cetrimide, mercurochrome, merthiolate, Dakin solution and others are harsh substances that also your kill body’s own bactericidal cells that are used to form new skin. Honey-infused wound dressings have excellent cleaning abilities.
Don’t use normal honey but use medical grade honey instead. This honey is gamma-irradiated because honey sometimes contains spores of clostridia, which pose a small, theoretic risk of an infection called wound botulism.
In reality however, there are no reports of any type of infection resulting from the topical use of honey on wounds. Read this post on how you can benefit from using Medihoney dressings on your surgery incision.
Read this post for more tips on how to heal open wounds faster.
Image credit: Pixabay.