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The Scientist Behind the Science Peter Molan: The Man of Manuka

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The Scientist Behind the Science Peter Molan: The Man of Manuka

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An interview with Dr. Peter Molan, conducted during my visit to New Zealand in June 2010.
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Bee World
ISSN: 0005-772X (Print) 2376-7618 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tbee20
The Scientist Behind the Science Peter Molan: The
Man of Manuka
Kirsten S. Traynor
To cite this article: Kirsten S. Traynor (2015) The Scientist Behind the Science Peter Molan: The
Man of Manuka, Bee World, 92:4, 109-112, DOI: 10.1080/0005772X.2016.1164447
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0005772X.2016.1164447
Published online: 27 Jul 2016.
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Dr. Andrea Quigley
Independent Scholar
Email: andrea_quigley@btinternet.com
The Scientist Behind the Science
Peter Molan: The Man of Manuka
Kirsten S. Traynor
My husband and I visited New
Zealand in June 2010 to speak at the
New Zealand beekeeping conference.
During that time, we visited Peter
Molan and his wife Alyson at their
home in Hamilton. Peter showed us
his research lab at the University of
Waikato. We enjoyed long
conversations, discussing his research,
his travels, and his work on the
healing properties of honey.
I was very sad to learn of Peter
Molan’s death; he passed away on 16
Sept 2015 at age 71. Peter was
generous, kind and welcoming, always
ready to talk at length about the
potential of honey. He worked
tirelessly to unravel honey’s
therapeutic effects, never profiting
personally from his research.
As you can see from the excerpt of
our conversation below, his mind
constantly grappled to find solutions to
medical problems.
Bee World: I understand the Maori of
New Zealand have used manuka for
medicinal purposes for a long time. How
has the use of manuka honey for wound
care impacted their lives?
Peter Molan: It’s interesting. A group
of Maori came to the university to
honor me for what I had
contributed to their economic
wellbeing through making manuka
honey invaluable. They own the land
and manuka is all that grows there.
It’s always been wasteland. Like the
American Indians, they were just left
the land that no one else wanted.
Manuka honey has been a big
turnaround for them. They’re doing
their own beekeeping and producing
a good income off their land from
the honey.
BW: Do you find doctors are resistant to
using honey?
PM: They try the “Ah well, the
patients are diabetic, so we can’t use
honey.” Which has to be an excuse,
because if somebody’s life is at risk,
and they were diabetic, and you give
them a lot of sugar to eat, so that
their blood glucose level goes up for
the few days while you’re doing so, it
would have no noticeable effect on
them. It’s only long-term that high
blood sugar levels are a problem. So
even if it did raise blood sugar levels,
it wouldn’t matter, but it doesn’t.
BW: From what I understand honey is
actually a low GI food.
PM: Yes, but the surface area for
absorbing in the gut is phenomenal.
The gut itself, the wall is like lots of
little fingers. Each of those fingers is
covered with cells. You have a huge
surface area for absorbing, compared
with the surface area of a wound,
where it’s negligible. We’ve tried
measuring blood glucose levels in the
early days and there was never any
noticeable effect on the blood sugar.
You just don’t have a large enough
absorptive area for the glucose to be
absorbed.
BW: Do you think manuka honey is the
only honey that has non-peroxide
properties?
Bee World 109
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PM: I always tell people: Firstly, in
wound care, any honey is better than
none, any sort of honey at all.
However, if you’re trying to clear an
established infection, then honey with
a tested high-level of anti-bacterial
activity is best. Against an infection,
you’ll have much better activity with a
high-activity manuka honey than with
a different variety that only has a
high-peroxide activity.
BW: Is that because the wound produces
catalase that can inactivate the peroxide
activity but not the non-peroxide activity in
manuka? Honey isn’t commonly used in
the United States for wound care.
PM: Yes,thatsright.Ivebeentoldby
the wound care specialists—nurses I’ve
worked with—that have worked in the
United States that wound care there is
quite primitive. The leading research on
wound care is elsewhere. Australia is
one of the leading places for innovative
research on wound care.
BW: In the US, there is a tendency to
over apply antibiotics. If one doesn’t
work, we often hit it with another one.
Staph infections are becoming a problem
in the ICU, especially with the superbug
MRSA (Methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus).
PM: That’s totally unnecessary. In
New Zealand, I’m told doctors
receive 20 min of their whole medical
education on wound care. The
nurses are the ones who learn about
wound care and do most of it.
I’ve worked with the large Waikato
hospital for a long time to develop
honey dressings. Early on, one of the
nurses in charge of the ward used
honey on one case. I actually made
the dressing for her, because nothing
else was working. The whole of the
lower leg had become seriously
inflamed. It was in danger of
becoming necrotizing fasciitis—a flesh
eating condition.
I made a dressing in that sort of
shape, just to wrap around and
encase the leg. The honey dressing
cleared that up overnight. It probably
saved the person’s life. It certainly
fixed the problem within 24 h. Then
the doctor in charge of the patient
filed a formal complaint for the nurse
treating it with honey.
BW: A problem with traditional
dressings in severe wound care is
removing the actually bandages because
it becomes so painful.
PM: What happens is the serum that
comes out of a wound is like blood
without the red cells in it, so it clots. It
actually clots into the dressing. All the
cells in the wound that repair and
migrate get caught in the clot. If you
don’t have the fibers of the clot, you
won’t get any repair. The cells have to
attach to the fibers to multiply, to
migrate. If you take a dressing off that
has been clotted into, you’re tearing
off all the new growth. It’s not only
painful, it’s stopping repair.
When you have honey there, it
actually breaks down the clot. Instead
it’s just slough. To clean out a wound,
you need that clot detached. I have a
post-doc working on the mechanism.
What we found is that honey actually
activates a protein that’s in the wound.
It breaks down the clot, but doesn’t
destroy the fibers.
BW: So you’re retaining your new
growth when you remove the bandage?
PM: Yes, exactly. The honey just
diffuses out of the dressings. If you
put them in an agar plate, you’ll see
the honey move out and kill the
bacteria. If you put it on somewhere
that’s inflamed, the anti-inflammatory
activity takes down the pain and the
Waikau Bay: a beekeeper inspects his hives in the setting sun.
©Eric Tourneret - The bee photographer
The beekeepers drive deep into the countryside to reach the distant apiaries near the
Manuka forests. Although this tree can be found everywhere on the hundreds of thousands
of hectares of community land, roads are scarce and sites for the apiaries are fought over.
©Eric Tourneret - The bee photographer
110 | Bee World, 2015
Vol. 92, No. 4, 97–131
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swelling. It goes right through the
skin. It’s really phenomenal.
BW: Any other interesting honey uses
we may not have heard about.
PM: It’s certainly having really good
results with sinus infections. I had
one person, who was a medical
general practitioner. He contacted
me. He’d had an MRSA infection in
his sinuses for years.
BW: I understand that a lot of people
are carriers of the superbug in their nose.
PM: Yes, right. Which could cause a
lot of problems in hospitals, if the staff
is carrying it. In the nose is one of the
most likely places. If you get the
honey into the sinuses, it disappears.
He was really pleased to get rid of it.
BW: Does it help for chemotherapy,
where the whole intestinal tract becomes
inflamed?
PM: Through a relative, I suggested
trying honey. She found it gave a lot
of relief. She was part of a support
group undergoing chemotherapy, so
the word spread. It’s being used. One
of the trials being done is in Malaysia
for radiotherapy. When people get
radiotherapy around the head and
neck regions, the lining of the mouth
gets destroyed.
I was in Malaysia for an infection
conference. The person who was
doing the trial flew down from the
north to talk to me. He was saying
that the trial they’re doing at the
moment, the people are on
chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The
study was focused on the mouth, but
they found that it was giving relief
through the entire gut.
You can never tell when it’s just
individuals if it’s psychosomatic. I mean
it’s just such a powerful effect. The
results may be very genuine and real,
but the cause may be through the
mind. I always keep that in the back of
my mind when people are getting
initial results. But those sorts of
positive results give an indication that
it may be worthwhile to do a trial.
BW: What about an abscess?
PM: On any skin infections, it would
be effective. The anti-bacterial activity
gets through the skin as well. We’ve
had some serious boils, where the
skin is still intact. When people are
on medication that suppresses the
immune system, they can get very
bad problems with boils. Honey has
worked very well on those.
BW: How is the honey applied?
PM: Just on the skin using a dressing.
With the little ones, when you get
that red lump before it comes to a
head, put a little honey on a band aid.
It just goes backwards. It never
develops a head. It’s really effective
on boils before the skin breaks. It
goes right through the skin.
BW: So it would probably be really
good for chronic acne.
PM: Yes. I’ve had quite a few post-
grad students stay with us from other
countries. They’re starting work on
honey and want to come over and
learn more about it from me. Some of
them stay for a while. One of them
had really bad acne. So I grabbed a skin
cream made up with honey. I got her
to put it on one side of her face and
not the other.
You’ve seen football supporters who
put skin paint on in the colors of their
team. She was like one who had
applied red and white. You could see
her coming down the corridor. Half
her face was white and the other half
was red. Just that physical effect.
BW: As the medical community
gravitates toward using more honey, are
you concerned there will be a shortage
of manuka honey.
During the harvest, thousands of bees fly this way and that around the beekeepers.
©Eric Tourneret - The bee photographer
A young Maori sampling some Manuka honey.
©Eric Tourneret - The bee photographer
Bee World 111
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PM: Pine forestry has become
economical. Pinus radiata, California
pine, grows twice as fast here as it
does in California. So they are
clearing the forest, but they’re not
replanting it. A lot of that cleared
land has now been planted in manuka,
because of the anticipation of an
increase in demand for the honey. I’m
getting a lot of queries from people in
other countries wanting to plant.
BW: Do you intend to keep researching
honey?
PM: Mandatory retirement has
been removed in New Zealand. I’m
66. I’m having too much fun. It’s
getting more and more interesting.
I love teaching. My lectures now
are better than they’ve ever been,
because I’ve learned so much
more.
ORCID
Kirsten S. Traynor http://orcid.org/0000-
0002-1724-5835
Kirsten S. Traynor
Department of Entomology, University of
Maryland, College Park, United States
Emails: beeworld@ibra.org.uk;
ktraynor@umd.edu
Honey – Food or Medicine?
The How, Where, and Why of
Bioactivity Testing
Dr. Lynne Chepulis
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine
be thy food.” These were the wise
words from Hippocrates some
2000 years ago. But do we still live by
this adage today? Although we were
once a population who lived off the
land, using nature’s resources as a
means for healing, Western society
now lives in a bubble defined by
technology and pharmacology. Medicine
is not considered to be effective unless
it comes in a blister pack produced by
a pharmaceutical company, and
treatment involving any plant or herbal
remedy was until recently considered
quackery, at best.
However, the role of a good scientist is
to test the scientific boundaries of
knowledge and to tread into areas
where thinking currently does not go.
We often have to look backward to
move forward, and more recent
advances in nutrition and food science
suggest that Mother Nature may have
more to offer than we originally gave
her credit for.
The health and healing properties of
honey have been well documented
throughout history, but only in the
last 50 odd years have we been able
to give some scientific credibility to
this story. Researchers such as White
and Crane started researching the
physical and biochemical properties of
honey during the 1960s and 1970s
(Crane, 1975; White, Subers, &
Schepartz, 1963), and since then, more
scientific data have continued to be
produced. Of course, my good friend
and mentor Dr. Peter Molan has a lot
to be thanked for in this area.
Dedicating his life to the research of
honey, he, along with his team of
staff, students and colleagues
generated many hundreds of research
articles dedicated entirely to the
“bioactive” properties of honey.
I have worked in this area of bioactivity
testing for many years, and often get
approached by beekeepers and honey
producers who want to know whether
their honey has any health benefit that
they can claim. What are the main
bioactive properties that they should
look for? And how can these be tested?
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