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Can honey solve the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics?

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Honey, that delectable condiment for breads and fruits, could be one sweet solution to the serious, ever-growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, researchers said in a March 16, 2014 presentation at the American Chemical Society 247th National Meeting and Exposition. The new report is "Bioactive constituents in honey: Antimicrobial and antibiofilm effects." Scientists presented the findings of this research today at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. But most grocery store honey is not actually honey, according to the FDA's definition because the pollen is filtered out. And to be defined as honey, it has to contain pollen.

Medical professionals sometimes use honey successfully as a topical dressing, but it could play a larger role in fighting infections, the researchers predicted. Their study's presentation is part of the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society. The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features more than 10,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held at the Dallas Convention Center and area hotels this week.

"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, according to the March 16, 2014 news release, "Honey is a new approach to fighting antibiotic resistance: How sweet it is." You also may wish to check out the news article, "Honey is a new approach to fighting antibiotic resistance."

Honey kills certain bacterial cells by dehydrating them

That is, honey uses a combination of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols — all of which actively kill bacterial cells, she explained. The osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.

In addition, several studies have shown that honey inhibits the formation of biofilms, or communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria, she said, according to the news release. "Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics," Meschwitz said in the news release.

Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms

In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria's pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease. Meschwitz, who is with Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., said another advantage of honey is that unlike conventional antibiotics, it doesn't target the essential growth processes of bacteria. The problem with this type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, is that it results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.

Honey is effective because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants, she said. These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids. "Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics," she added, according to the news release. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey, according to Meschwitz.

She said that her team also is finding that honey has antioxidant properties and is an effective antibacterial. "We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity," she explained. "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 press conference on this topic is being held Sunday, March 16, at 4:30 p.m. Central time in Room A122/A123 of the Dallas Convention Center. Media can attend in person or access live video of the event and ask questions at the ACS Ustream channel at the ustream channel site.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Honey is the oldest natural sweetener and has been known for its medicinal uses since ancient times.

A large number of in vitro and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antimicrobial (antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral) properties of honey, which are mainly attributed to a combination of hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration, and antioxidants, notes the study's abstract.

The precise mode of antibacterial action is only just beginning to be understood. Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics. Although the specific polyphenols found in honey vary with nectar source and region, the most common phenolics found in honey include the phenolic acids caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, and ellagic acid and the flavonoids quercetin, apigenin, galangin, pinocembrin, kaempferol, luteolin, and chrysin.

The antimicrobial properties of honey might only represent one facet of its anti-infective potential and may involve other mechanisms

Recently, the effect of honey on the inhibition and prevention of bacterial biofilm formation and the interruption of bacterial cell-cell communication systems has been investigated but the constituents responsible for this effect have not been determined, explains the study's abstract.

In order to understand the unusual ability that honey has to fight infections, researchers have investigated additional constituents of honey that may provide alternative modes of antibacterial action. The next time you taste some organic honey, think of its properties, but never feed a baby honey. See, "Infant botulism: How can it be prevented? - Mayo Clinic" and "CarefulParents.com - Honey can give your infant botulism."

You also may wish to check out the article, "Infant feeding: Honey is bad for babies." Also vegans may reject honey because it's made by bees and not the plants the bees feed on. Honey bees get honey by sucking nectar out of plants. See, "How Do Bees Make Honey?." And check out, "Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey | Food Safety News." The US Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. And most of the honey tested had the pollen filtered out.

As a result, Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia. The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.

The director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News. For more information on honey, check out the article, "Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey | Food Safety News," which gives the following statistics: See the PDF article on how the researchers conduct a pollen study of raw honey, "Palynology Research Laboratory - HoneyPax." According to the government, the definition of honey is if it contains pollen so you can tell from where the honey originates.

The director of the Palynology Research Laboratory found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen. On the other hand, the results on the other types of grocery store/supermarket/eatery honey is noted as followes in the Food Safety News article:

•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

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