Honey is a popular natural product that is used in the treatment of burns and a broad spectrum of injuries, in particular chronic wounds. The antibacterial potential of honey has been considered the exclusive criterion for its wound healing properties. The antibacterial activity of honey has recently been fully characterized in medical-grade honeys. Recently, the multifunctional immunomodulatory properties of honey have attracted much attention. The aim of this review is to provide closer insight into the potential immunomodulatory effects of honey in wound healing. Honey and its components are able to either stimulate or inhibit the release of certain cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β, interleukin-6) from human monocytes and macrophages, depending on wound condition. Similarly, honey seems to either reduce or activate the production of reactive oxygen species from neutrophils, also depending on the wound microenvironment. The honey-induced activation of both types of immune cells could promote debridement of a wound and speed up the repair process. Similarly, human keratinocytes, fibroblasts, and endothelial cell responses (e.g., cell migration and proliferation, collagen matrix production, chemotaxis) are positively affected in the presence of honey; thus, honey may accelerate reepithelization and wound closure. The immunomodulatory activity of honey is highly complex because of the involvement of multiple quantitatively variable compounds among honeys of different origins. The identification of these individual compounds and their contributions to wound healing is crucial for a better understanding of the mechanisms behind honey-mediated healing of chronic wounds.
© 2014 by the Wound Healing Society.