Honey Treatment for Infections Isn't So Sweet

Honey did not prevent more infections than standard antibiotics and led to more side effects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Although medical-grade honey has previously shown promising antibiotic properties, it may not live up to the hype for certain infections.

A recent study compared topical treatments of honey against a standard wound care for preventing infection at the site of dialysis. They looked for rates of infection and how long it took for an infection to develop.

They found that between the honey and the standard care, there was no significant difference in rates of infection. Additionally, more people with the honey treatment reported a negative side effect, like skin irritation.

The researchers suggested that honey may not be an effective way to prevent infections from dialysis wounds.

"Talk to your doctor about preventing infection."

David Johnson, PhD, of the Australian Kidney Trials Network in the University of Queensland led the study in order to see how well honey worked in treating infections that resulted from a certain kind of dialysis treatment.

Specifically, he used patients who had experienced kidney failure and were using peritoneal dialysis. When the kidneys fail, they can't filter the blood. In peritoneal dialysis, a catheter is inserted into a patient's abdomen and a solution is used to help filter wastes from the body.

Peritoneal dialysis is an important treatment option for people with kidney failure, but it can lead to infection at the insertion site or inside the abdomen.

Usually, infections resulting from peritoneal dialysis are treated with antibiotics. However, some bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics used, so the antibiotics are becoming less effective.

Some previous reports have suggested that medical grade, sterilized honey may be able to kill bacteria while avoiding promoting antibiotic resistance.

This study tested honey in place of antibiotics for some patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis.

The researchers used 371 participants who had experienced kidney failure and were being treated with peritoneal dialysis. Of the participants, 186 received a topical treatment of medical-grade honey and standard wound care. The other 185 participants received standard wound care, with mupirocin ointment if they were carriers of nasal S. aureus.

Doctors examined the patients and the exit sites of their catheters every two months for up to 24 total months.

They were looking to see if the honey treatment delayed the time to infection of the dialysis area.

The researchers found that 170 of the 371 participants developed an infection related to peritoneal dialysis: 82 participants who had been treated with honey and 88 who were treated with standard care.

They also found that the time it took to develop an infection were not significantly different between the honey group and the control group.

Patients in the honey group averaged of 16 months until their first infection, and patients in the control group averaged of 17.7 months until their first infection. 

Patients with diabetes in the honey group averaged 11.6 months until their first infection. The risk of peritonitis was almost two times as high compared to patients with diabetes in the control group.

People in the honey group were also much more likely to withdraw from the study due to a skin reaction.

Additionally, there were no differences in serious side effects or death between the honey and control groups. However, people in the honey group were more likely to require hospital admission for removal of part of a parathyroid gland, uterine bleeding, and high blood sugar.

The researchers concluded that, in this trial, honey was not an adequate treatment for preventing infections related to peritoneal dialysis. 

“While the fact that honey doesn’t contribute to antibacterial resistance makes it an attractive option for preventing infection at wound sites, our results suggest that honey cannot be routinely recommended for the prevention of infections related to peritoneal dialysis,” said Prof. Johnson in a press release.

The study was published in The Lancet on October 9.

The research was funded by Baxter Healthcare, Queensland Government, Combita, and Gambro. Some of the researchers reported financial ties to Baxter Healthcare and other pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
October 9, 2013
Last Updated:
October 10, 2013