Manuka honey could relieve the misery of cystic fibrosis, according to new research.
The ‘liquid gold’, which costs up to £100 a jar, kills the drug resistant bacteria found in patients.
It wiped out nine in ten of the deadly bugs tested when combined with antibiotics, said British scientists.
The breakthrough offers hope of improving therapy for the UK’s 10,400 sufferers and extending their lives.
They often die before they reach 40 as mucus from the disease damages their lungs, risking infections.
The Swansea University team found Manuka honey destroys the bacteria that causes them, helping the organs work effectively for as long as possible.
Experiments on lungs from pigs, whose anatomy is remarkably similar to a human’s, were so successful a clinical trial has already been launched.
Co author Dr Rowena Jenkins, a lecturer in microbiology and infectious diseases, said: “The preliminary results are very promising.
“Should these be replicated in the clinical setting then this could open up additional treatment options for those with cystic fibrosis infections.”
It may also buy time for terminally ill patients to undergo life saving lung transplants, said Dr Jenkins and lead author Dr Aled Roberts.
The findings published in Frontiers in Microbiology may also open the door to an alternative treatment for superbugs in general.
In the study bacterial infections were grown in the swine tissue that mimicked those found in CF (cystic fibrosis) patients.
When exposed to Manuka honey, 39 percent of the drug resistant bugs died, compared to 29 percent for antibiotics.
But it worked by improving the activity of some medications that were unable to function effectively by themselves.
The honey and antibiotics combined killed 90 percent of the bacteria tested, said the researchers.
One in every 2,500 babies born in the UK develops CF, making it one of the country’s most common life threatening inherited diseases.
A government review led by Lord Jim O’Neill highlighted the threat of superbugs.
It estimated a continued rise in antimicrobial resistance would lead to 10 million people dying every year by 2050.
Patients with CF are particularly vulnerable to chronic and long-lasting respiratory infections.
These often prove fatal due to the presence of certain bacteria that are resistant to many, if not all, the antibiotics doctors currently have at their disposal.
Lung transplants can be a last resort but this is risky as the original bacteria may also be in the upper airway and migrate into the new lungs – making the transplant ineffective.
Some patients have a worse prognosis as they are infected with the most lethal types which are difficult to kill due to multiple antibiotic resistance.
Known as Pseudomonas and Burkholderia cepacia complex, they cause extensive damage to the lungs.
In some instances, merely their presence can prevent a patient from receiving a lung transplant.
The effectiveness of antibiotics is a huge concern making the need to find suitable, non-toxic alternatives a top priority.
Honey has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal product. More recently, research has shown the Manuka variety is capable of killing antibiotic resistant bacteria in skin wounds.
Dr Jenkins said: “The synergy with antibiotics and absence of resistance seen in the laboratory has allowed us to move into the current clinical trial, investigating the potential for Manuka honey as part of a sinus rinse for alleviating infection in the upper airway.”
What is more, a higher concentration could be added to a solution to clear “infection reservoirs”.
This would prevent the migration of bacteria from the upper airway into the lung so enabling terminal CF patients to be given a lung transplant, she added.
A host of celebrities have extolled the virtues of Manuka honey including Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Katherine Jenkins.
Studies have found it also has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. It can help with skin repair, coughs and colds, and even fight the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers.
Native to New Zealand, it is produced by bees who pollinate the flower Leptospermum scoparium, commonly known as the manuka bush.