Antibacterial Action Of Honey


Islamic Medicine
Staff member

Ahmed Shawki Ibrahim

The tehrapeutic action of honey was mentioned in various studies in traditional medicine. It was proved that local application of honey promoted healing of wounds. The antibacterial substances in honey are still inknown exactly and are called "inhibin".

The person study is an in vitro comparison of antibacterial action of honey in different dilutions, to the effect of a number of commonly used antibiotics on 9 types of pathogenic organisms in urine samples of 149 patients of urinary tract infection. It was found that the antibacterial action of honey in 50-30% dilution, is superior to all antibiotics including gentamycin.


The Holy Quran mentioned honey and attributed some therapeutic values to it. The therapeutic value of honey was underlined in various literature. It occupied a prominent place in traditional medicine. The use of honey has recently been reviewed. Local application of honey was found to promote healing of owounds in some patients. This unusual treatment was first brought to the medical attention by Prof. Scott-Russedi of Sheffield. This method was applied to several infected abdominal wounds in Sheffield and St. Louis. The results were sufficiently remarkable to consider further use of method in patients undergoing radical operation for vulval carcinomas. The wounds generally break down owing to impaired blood supply. Healing rarely occurs by primary intention and skin grafting may be necessary to assist wound closure 1. Undiluted honey was used in 12 patients who developed wound break down following a radical operation for carcinoma of vulva. The results were encouraging. The healing process was particularly enhanced. Culture from the wound was obtained at intervals. The time at which the wound became bacteria-free was 3-6 days in all cases. Also the time of complete wound healing was noted 2.

The presence in honey of various amounts of inhibin as described by Dold et al (1937) has been reported by several investigators. Placky (1944) 5 discussed the known constituents of honey that might be responsible for antibacterial action and concluded this was not due to sugar, acids, nitrogen compounds, enzymes, pH, vitamins or ohter known constituents. He note that inhibin passes through a dialysis membrane and withstand vacuum concentration with no activity remaining in the solution. Schuler and Vogel (1956) 6 extracted undiluted honey in various solvents and reported that the inhibitory substance was ether-soluble.

Schade et al (1958) 7 showed that inhibin was more heat sensitive than honey amylase and that its level in a limited number of honeys by a modified Dold Assay did not correlate with amylase activity.

Warnecke et al (1958) assayed 600 honey samples of 131 types for inhibin by the Dold procedure. They concluded that inhibin activity and invertase activity ran parallel.

Stomfay-Stitz et al (1960) 8 stated that inhibin was active against both gram positive and negative bacteria and was of unknown constitution.

Gluconic acid was recently found to be the principal acid in honey (Stenson et al, 1960) 9. The acid-producing enzyme in honey was a glucose oxidase producing gluconic acid (gluconolactone) and hydrogen peroxide from glucose 10. The HzOz was produced in honey by the action of a glucose oxidase on glucose. The enzymatic oxidation of glucose take place very slowly in undiluted honey and at much higher rates as honey was diluted 10.

The role of honey as a healer in certain types of wounds particularly septic burns notorious for their chronicity is worth investigation. An invitro investigation of the potency of honey was thought a necessary step before advice in the use of honey for application in the treatment of burns.


The present study is based on the in vitro comparison of the sensitivity of certain pathogenic micro-organisms to the effect of a number of commonly used antibiotics and various dilutions of honey in distilled water. 5 dilutions starting from 50% - 10% were used. The bacteria were isolated from the urine of patients complaining of various U.T. troubles. The types of isolated bacteria in descending frequency were E Coli, Klebsiella, B Proteus, and Pseudomonas. A lower incidence of Strept cocci and Staph cocci was reported. The antibiotics tested were Cephaloridine (Cr), Penbritin (Amp), Gentamycin (Gn), Nitrofurantoin (Nit), Nalidixic acid (N) and Co-Sulfamethazol (SX1).


Out of the 320 samples of urine cultured, 191 were found sterile and 149 were found to have fbacteria, 100,000/cm. 9 types pathogenic bacteria were identified in the urine samples. The most common type was E coli, found in 80 samples. The other types were markedly less common. Comparison between the bacterial activity of the various dilutions of honey and the commonly used antibiotics is shown in Table (1). Among the antibiotics, Gn proved to be the most potent. Nit, N and SX1 were the least effective.

The potency of honey 50% - 30% was found to be superior to all types of antibiotics including Gn. The effect of honey was not affected by dilutions up to 30%. The sensitivity to both 20% and 10% honey was less for Klebsiella, where sensitivity dropped particularly with the 10% dilution. Dilution of honey below 30% seems to lower the efficiency. This is in conformity with the reports of Cavanagh et al (1970). The overall picture confirms the finding of several other works about the efficiency of honey as an antibacterial agent recommended for infective complications of wounds. Also the application of honey to infected burns seem quite promising.