By Alexandra Sifferlin
Updated: September 28, 2016 10:23 AM ET | Originally published: September 26, 2016
TIME Health
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A type of honey from New Zealand may be able to beat back bacteria, a new study found. If proven effective, the honey could potentially be used to lower the risk for infections among people using medical devices like catheters.

Manuka honey has been used for centuries as a natural remedy, and has been shown in the past to have antibacterial and anti-inflammation effects. In the new study, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, researchers looked at whether the honey could prevent bacteria from building up on surfaces, too.

Medical devices that go inside a person, like a catheter, can develop biofilms—a layer of bacteria that can attach to surfaces. The problem is that these biofilms can become infection reservoirs, causing health complications. Around 100 million catheters are sold globally every year, and they are associated with health risks like urinary tract infections. To assess Manuka honey’s potential to lower this risk, the researchers tested its effect on two types of bacteria commonly known to cause UTIs from catheter use: Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Proteus mirabilis. The study authors say E.coli is the cause of 80%–85% of urinary tract infections.

The researchers diluted the honey to different levels and tested its ability to combat bacterial buildup on plastic plates in a laboratory. They found that the honey inhibited the bacteria’s ability to develop into a biofilm, even at the lowest concentration levels. More research will be needed before it’s determined whether honey could work to prevent bacteria buildup on catheters in people.

The researchers write that while there’s substantial evidence that Manuka honey could have therapeutic benefits, but that its potential role in medicine has not been proven in research. However, the study authors argue that the honey doesn’t react worse than other compounds that might be used instead. “In fact, no drug or dressing receives ringing endorsement, suggesting that the field is under-investigated or difficult to address,” the authors write.

Another bonus for honey, according to the researchers, is that so far, studies suggest bacteria does not develop a resistance to honey. Antibiotic resistance is a major problem worldwide. Bacteria can naturally become resistant to drugs used to treat it, and widespread use of antibiotics through the years in medicine and agriculture have contributed to the problem.

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