Sweet and sour medicine? Honey and vinegar combo may be a secret wound-healing recipe

COVENTRY, United Kingdom — Throughout history, mixing honey and vinegar has been used as a medical treatment. Now, scientists say that this combo could be applied in modern-day wound care.

Bacterial infections can be hard to fight against, especially when they are protected within biofilm. This substance is a system of bacteria that can tightly attach to surfaces, like flesh on an infected wound. Bacteria is protected by the biofilm, making it more difficult to kill. This is why current treatments aren’t always effective.

Research has previously shown that some natural remedies were effective against treating infections. Manuka honey has been shown to be antimicrobial and assist in healing wounds. Meanwhile, vinegar has worked as an antiseptic. Today, doctors have used manuka honey to treat antibiotic resistant infections, but they only use acetic acid (the active component of vinegar), and they don’t mix the two.

Manuka honey
Manuka honey (Credit: Aston University)

Dr. Erin Connelly, Dr. Freya Harrison, and their team from the University of Warwick conducted the first study exploring what happens when the compounds are mixed and applied to biofilms in the lab.

“In our survey of premodern recipes we noticed a pattern of combining honey and vinegar to wash or dress wounds and swellings, and this inspired us to focus on that combination in our analysis,” says Dr. Connelly in a media release.

“We applied a low dose of honey, that alone didn’t kill the bacteria, and a low dose of acetic acid that also could not kill the bacteria alone,” adds Dr. Harrison. “These doses are lower than those that wound care nurses currently use on patients. But when we put these low doses together, we saw a large number of bacteria dying which is really exciting. We really need to investigate whether combining these substances could help patients who are not responding to either substance used alone.”

The team also wanted to investigate if there were differences in the antimicrobial activity of whole vinegar versus solely acetic acid. Their findings revealed that whole vinegar was able to kill more bacteria that the same dose of pure acetic acid. For future research, researchers say pomegranate vinegars are of interest to them. They also acted as strong antibacterials and were active when combined with honey.

“This is an exciting area of research to use traditional remedies in the modern NHS. The burden of wound care and infections is increasing year by year, with causative conditions such as diabetes on the rise. Maybe the knowledge of our ancestors can be used to enhance the current care we can provide to our patients, at a lower cost,” notes Professor Joseph Hardwicke, Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.

The findings are published in the journal Microbiology.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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