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Gastroenterology and Health

Stomach, duodenal ulcers, spiral-shaped bacterium, Helicobacter pylori

Take Some Honey, Honey For Peptic Ulcers!

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

Why write about peptic ulcers again after discussing them a few months ago? It's not that I'm getting absent-minded or running out of ideas. Rather, I've just come across a novel way to treat one of this nation's major problems.

In a previous article I remarked that ,"He who laughs last, laughs best". The world's gastroenterologists had given the "big guffaw" to Australian scientists Drs Barry J Marshall and J. Robbin Warren.

These two Australian researchers had the audacity to report that it wasn't stress, type A personalities or increased amounts of hydrochloric acid that caused peptic ulcers. Rather, stomach and duodenal ulcers were triggered by a spiral-shaped bacterium called Helicobacter pylori.

But the big guffaw turned to embarrassment when study after study proved the Australians right. It's been such a revolutionary discovery the Advisory Board of the Harvard Health Letter rated it one of the ten most important medical breakthroughs of the year.

Yet new ideas are always tough to sell. After all, for years doctors have given antacids to restore normal acid balance in the stomach. Or have used antisecretory drugs such as Zantac to block hydrochloric acid secretion in peptic ulcer sufferers.

But this year the National Institute of Health convened a panel of experts to evaluate recent findings of peptic ulcer studies. It concluded that antibiotics should be used to treat peptic ulcers.

The $64.00 question is how to eradicate Helicobacter pylori? In the previous column I reported that there was no agreement among gastroenterologists on the best antibiotics.

Some authorities claim the best combination is the use of the antibiotics tetracycline and metronidazole along with bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) for two weeks.

Antibiotics however are not without problems. Organisms can become resistant to them. And some patients can suffer minor or serious side-effects such as sensitivity reactions.

That's why I'm indebted to Dr. Basil Grogono, an orthopedic surgeon, in Halifax, for pointing out a much less innocuous way to eradicate Helicobacter pylori.

Dr. Grogono, writing in the Medical Post, quoted an article in the Journal of The New Zealand Royal Society of Medicine. It reported the healing effects of honey.

Dr. Grogono claims the benefits of honey have been known for centuries. He says the Saxons valued it's healing powers. And editorials in the American Bee Association Magazine, Soviet Medicine and the Bulletin of Islamic Medicine all mention that honey may be an integral part of peptic ulcer treatment.

The Koran also had kind words to say about honey. It states, "There proceedeth from its belly a liquor of various colour wherein is a medicine for Men". And honey was sprinkled on the scared water used in the blessing of children prior to circumcision in Madagascar. Honey was also used as an ingredient in embalming and in the East for the preservation of fruit.

But it wasn't until January, 1994 that the antibiotic power of honey was reported in the New Zealand Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Researchers obtained Helicobacter pylori by biopsing peptic ulcers. Then tested the antibacterial factors in 345 samples of commercially available honey from 26 different floral regions.

Which was the winner? Just one bee which was fed on the "Manuka plant", which is native to New Zealand. And the results were most striking. The five per cent solution of Manuka honey was able to kill every bacterial colony of Helicobacter pylori.

I must admit that when I first read about Helicobacter pylori I was a trifle sceptical. But unless 20 different studies are wrong one has to believe the facts even though they seem too good to be true.

So what does this mean to the person who suffers from the gnawing pain of a peptic ulcer? In the past it meant months on antacid therapy, sometimes a prolonged hospital stay while milk dripped through a stomach tube day and night for several days. On occasion an emergency operation was necessary to close a perforated stomach ulcer. Or major surgery to remove part of the stomach.

Several years ago peptic ulcer patients received some relief. They no longer had to walk the floor unable to sleep because of the pain. The discovery of antisecretory drugs such as Zantac eased the pain by decreasing the production of hydrochloric acid. But this medication had to be continued almost indefinitely or the ulcer would recur.

Now Zantac and the other antisecretory drugs may be headed for the Smithsonian Institution. Now if your honey gets a peptic ulcer all you have to say is "Get some honey , honey!" But make sure it's made by New Zealand bees fed upon the Manuka plant.

W. Gifford-Jones M.D Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is:
Dr. Walker can be reached at

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