Honey for the Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders

on Sunday, 21 April 2013. Posted in Honey Research

Many healthy subjects and patients are taking natural bioactive products for the prevention and treatment of multiple conditions,...

Many healthy subjects and patients are taking natural bioactive products for the prevention and treatment of multiple conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders. Based on current evidence, the scientific validity of the use of many of these commercial compounds by the general public is severely limited, with quality control and regulatory issues continuing to be a concern. Nevertheless, there is sufficient preliminary data to warrant further research of these products in order to identify novel compounds for potential clinical use in addition to performing formal randomized controlled clinical trials of the commercial preparations.

Natural medicinal products have been used for millennia for the treatment of multiple ailments. Although many have been superseded by conventional pharmaceutical approaches, there is currently resurgence in interest in the use of natural products by the general public, which forms the basis of a world-wide, multi-million dollar major commercial industry. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry continues to examine their potential as sources of novel medicinal compounds to identify novel growth factor, immunomodulatory and potential anti-microbial activity.

In contrast with most standard medicinal compounds, these products are often marketed and used by individuals in order to prevent, rather than to treat, disease. In addition, patients often begin to take such products in addition to physician-prescribed medication, especially if they feel only limited benefit from the conventional (as opposed to alternative or complementary) medical approach. Many patients, therefore, attend clinics already taking these preparations or asking for advice about their value. Although many of the claims made for such products are based on extremely limited scientific evidence, it is important that clinicians are aware of the major products available and the scientific evidence that exists regarding their potential biological activities. In this review, we discuss some of the main products with biological activity currently being used, focusing mainly on areas of interest with particular relevance for the gastroenterologist. In view of the extensive scope of this review, readers are referred throughout to appropriate focused specialist reviews for further details.

Honey has been used as a medicine since ancient times. The high sugar content of honey makes it a very hyperosmolar preparation and this has been used to advantage as a topical preparation for skin burns and other superficial infections, acting as an anti-bacterial agent. For example, topical honey was shown to be effective in treating postoperative skin wounds in neonates that had failed to respond to antibiotic therapy. Honey also has the advantage of acting as a lubricant between the damaged tissue and the overlying dressing, thereby facilitating changes of wound dressing without damaging the underlying granulation tissue. Additional specific anti-bacterial activities have been reported for honey and there has been a particular focus on honey derived from the Manuka plant. It is important to note, however, that some studies have failed to show a major difference in anti-microbial activity of Manuka honey when compared with standard pasture honey.

Honey preparations have been proposed as potentially useful for many conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including periodontal and other oral diseases, dyspepsia and as part of oral re-hydration therapy. In vitro studies suggest that honey possesses bactericidal activity against Helicobacter pylori, although a clinical trial of Manuka honey therapy to induce Helicobacter eradication failed to show a beneficial effect. Honey may also be useful as a constituent of oral re-hydration therapy, as a clinical trial in which honey was used in place of glucose for the treatment of infants and children admitted into hospital with gastroenteritis showed significantly decreased duration of diarrhea in the honey-treated patients (58 h compared with 93 h).