The Antidote

Counterspin for Health Care and Health News

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Where are the standards?

I was surprised this morning to find that the Washington Post had published this piece. It's about a biochemist who is promoting manuka honey from New Zealand as a wound-healing agent, and it also does a pretty good job of promoting manuka itself.

But the article presents almost no evidence that manuka works. Instead, it interviews other honey experts, who lament the slowness of the medical community in accepting alternative treatments. The writer does, to his credit, quote researchers in the field who acknowledge that more research is necessary - including in vivo studies. One small, unpublished study is described: it's not clear whether it was s randomized, and though 7 of 10 wounds colonized with MRSA were no longer colonized at the end of the study, no comparison result is offered.

Apparently the FDA has approved manuka as a wound dressing, but what does that mean? that they don't think it will kill you? and if so, how do they even know that? Are the standards different for wound dressings from, say, anti-cholesterol drugs?

Why so much fuss about something that hasn't even reached the level of credible research? The article has that alternative-medicine air of "let's take back medicine from evil Pharma, and go back to natural remedies used for thousands of years" - even if there's really no good evidence that those natural remedies were actually effective or safe.


At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is your problem with the journalist? or the product? Either way you appear to present a very biased negative view. What do you actually expect, considering this was a summary article in a consumer publication? It is certainly one of the better articles on a health product, that is not intended to be a full feature length article.

Normally we see articles of only a couple of paragraphs, stating that a new study done by (Big Pharma) has found that (compound A) reduces risk of (?) by so many percent. And then you find out the study only involved 20 people so every person makes 5% difference anyway.

In this article, the writer does acknowledge that more research is required. There are actually several clincial trials involving manuka honey underway in different parts of the world at the moment. Maybe part of the reason more research has not already been completed is the slowness of the medical community in accepting alternative treatments.

However the writer does point to several published studies already done, in The South African Medical Journal, and The European Journal of Medical Research. There are others, such as by Tonks et al, published here:

You question where is the evidence that is is even safe. Well, why is it that the medical experts of their time have used it for thousands of years? How many reports of do you know that say honey is dangerous? What haven't we been warned for centuries that you should avoid honey? Unlike recently produced laboratory concoctions, where it really is an unknown as to how safe they are in the longer term.

Hospitals in several countries that have started to use it (manuka honey), have not stopped using it.

The middle ground is that yes, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence that this manuka honey helps with wounds. And the initial research that has been completed offers support to its usefullness. So lets keep an open mind, and encourage the research and clinical trials to be taken to the next level.

There is a more important point when it comes to natural remedies though. Whereas manufactured pills can all be produced to be identical, natural products naturally occur in different potencies. How are people meant to judge between herbs that have been grown in widely different climates and soil conditions? And how can practical standards be developed in this area. This is an area where science could help.

Ironically, the subject of the article, manuka honey, has already been addressing this issue, with the work of Professor Molan leading to a test that shows the difference between ordinary manuka honey and that which has the additional antibacterial properties. So that users can at least match the proper product to that which the research has been done on. Criteria for UMF manuka honey.


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