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Honey-Based Mead Elixir May Curb Antibiotic Resistance

Scientists find antibacterial compounds in bees’ stomachs

Scientists in Sweden are launching their own brand of mead –– an alcoholic beverage made from a fermented mixture of honey and water –– based on old recipes that they say could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance, according to a report from Reuters.

Dr. Tobias Olofsson, a researcher at Lund University, said that mead has a long history of positive effects on health.

“Mead is an alcoholic drink made with just honey and water,” Olofsson said. “It was regarded as the drink of the gods, and you could become immortal or sustain better health if you drank it. It was drunk by the Vikings, for example, and other cultures, such as the Mayans and the Egyptians.”

In research published last year, Olofsson and his colleague, Dr. Alejandra Vasquez, discovered that lactic-acid bacteria (LABs) found in the stomachs of honey bees, mixed with the honey itself, could cure chronic wounds in horses that were resistant to treatment. The team reported that the LABs were able to kill all of the human pathogens that they were tested against, including resistant ones. The LABs were able to do so by producing hundreds of antibiotic-like substances.

What makes the researchers’ new mead concoction different from other types of modern mead drinks is that it uses all 13 beneficial honey bee LABs. The honey-and-water mixture is sterilized before industrial wine yeast is added –– a process that kills all other life in the honey, including wild yeast, according to the Reuters report.

The researchers say their drink contains 100 billion of the 13 different LABs. They see their elixir as a possible way of preventing infections.

In 2005, Olofsson and Vasquez discovered that beneficial bacteria reside within honey bees in a structure called the honey crop, which is the organ by which the bees collect nectar for honey production. Since then, the team’s research has focused on how this finding could be applied to foods as alternative medical treatments for infections.

“We don't really know which kind of infectious diseases we could counteract in the future,” Vasquez said. “At the moment, we know that the bacteria produce very interesting compounds.”

If human trials are successful, the new elixir could help doctors fight the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, especially in developing countries, where fresh honey is more readily available than antibiotics, the researchers said.

Sources: Reuters; June 10, 2015; and Living Antibiotics; April 21, 2015.

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