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Bee Belly Bacteria: an Antibiotic Alternative?

Sep 11, 2014 03:33 PM EDT

Gut bacteria found in honeybees may be an incredible alternative to antibiotics currently on the market, giving the world more of a fighting chance against a growing number of antibiotic-resistant illnesses.

For nearly a millennia, medicine men have used raw natural honey to help fight infections. However, it was never really known what gives this honey its antimicrobial properties.

Now, according to a study recently published in the International Wound Journal, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) found in fresh honey, from the honey stomach of bees, that produce a surprising number of natural antimicrobial compounds.

Tobias Olofsson, who authored the study, explained that this broad spectrum of antimicrobials could make for an effective and adaptable mixture superior to modern antibiotics for fighting infections.

"Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria. When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat," he explained in a statement. "It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees' health and honey against other harmful microorganisms."

This was verified in a number of lab and animal tests, during which bacteria harmful to humans and persistent wounds on live horses were both exposed to a specially designed LAB mixture. The horses has previously been treated with several other mixtures to fight infection, but to no avail. However, the LAB mixture did the job. Likewise, the same LAB cocktail proved effective at suppressing harmful bacteria samples in the lab.

However, don't go slapping honey on every cut and scrape just yet. The author adds that these antimicrobial benefits are lost in modern honey, as store-bought honey has been treated so extensively that it doesn't contain live LABs.

Still, the researchers are encouraged by their findings, explaining that in many vulnerable and developing countries, honey may be more available than antibiotics. Additionally, in countries like the United States that overuse antibiotics, new LAB-based treatments can help fight increasingly resistant strains of dangerous bacteria.

[Credit: Lund University]

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