Manuka Honey Shows Potential as Treatment for Drug-Resistant Lung Infections
(Credit: Benyamin Bohlouli on Unsplash)

Manuka Honey May Help Combat Drug-Resistant Lung Infections

Infections of the lungs caused by Mycobacterium abscessus can be fatal for people with cystic fibrosis because they are challenging to treat. However, a new study published on September 7, 2022, in the journal Microbiology shows that medical-grade honey called Manuka honey may be a promising alternative treatment for respiratory infections caused by M. abscessus, a type of bacteria known for its antimicrobial resistance.

Manuka honey has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including its antimicrobial activity and antioxidant properties. This honey is produced by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush, a plant native to New Zealand and Australia. Bees are considered the most important species on earth due to their role in pollinating plants and producing honey. However, bees are also endangered, and their populations have been declining in recent years due to a variety of factors.

About Mycobacterium Abscessus Bacteria

Mycobacterium abscessus is a type of bacteria that is most commonly found in the lungs of people suffering from cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, or other chronic lung illnesses. Without treatment, a bacterial lung infection caused by M. abscessus can lead to lung cavities, scarring, and tissue thickening, which could cause respiratory failure. In addition to causing aggressive pulmonary infections, M. abscessus can also cause skin and soft tissue infections.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are often ineffective against M. abscessus bacteria due to their thick cell walls. Therefore, the medications must be taken for extended periods at high doses, leading to severe side effects. Even then, the bacterial infection is typically only suppressed rather than entirely cured. In search of a more effective treatment for lethal lung infections caused by M. abscessus, scientists from Aston University in the UK investigated the use of Manuka honey.

Manuka Honey Shows Potential as Treatment for Drug-Resistant Lung Infections
(Credit: Pixabay)

Healing Qualities of Manuka Honey

Since ancient times, honey has been recognized for its healing properties, but natural Manuka honey is particularly potent due to the presence of the antibacterial compound methylglyoxal. In their study, the researchers used samples of M. abscessus bacteria (including NCTC 13031 and 16 clinical

isolates from patients with M. abscessus pulmonary infection) in an in vitro (laboratory-based) lung model. They found that Manuka honey was able to inhibit the growth of M. abscessus and a number of drug-resistant clinical isolates, suggesting its potential as a treatment for bacterial lung infections caused by this type of bacteria.

Victoria Nolan, the study’s lead author and Ph.D. researcher, commented: “So far, treatment of Mycobacterium abscessus pulmonary infections can be problematic due to its drug-resistant nature. Our study suggests that Manuka honey could potentially be used as a treatment option for M. abscessus infections, offering a natural and potentially less toxic alternative to traditional antibiotic therapies.”

Study Results

The researchers also used a microbroth dilution checkerboard assay to investigate the potential synergistic effects of Manuka honey and the antibiotic amikacin when used in combination. They found that the use of Manuka honey in combination with amikacin in an in vitro inhalation model increased the efficacy of the antibiotic while allowing for a lower dosage to be used.

Dr. Jonathan Cox, a team member and senior lecturer in microbiology at Aston University, explained: “By combining a totally natural ingredient such as Manuka honey with doses of amikacin, one of the most important yet toxic drugs used for treating Mycobacterium abscessus, we have found a way to potentially kill off these bacteria with less drug than before. This has the potential to significantly reduce amikacin-associated hearing loss and greatly improve the quality of life of so many patients.”

The next step for the researchers is to conduct human clinical trials to further investigate the potential of Manuka honey as a treatment for respiratory infections caused by M. abscessus. These clinical trials are expected to happen soon, and the findings of this study pave the way for the incorporation of Manuka honey into nebulized antibiotic treatment for respiratory infections caused by this deadly, drug-resistant bacteria. If successful, this natural and potentially less toxic treatment could offer a new therapeutic option for managing lethal lung infections.

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