Almost four years ago in my “Diabetes Update” newsletter I wrote about an ancient remedy that is being used again to treat stubborn wounds and ulcers. These ulcers are a major threat to anybody with diabetes who has neuropathy.
On first blush, that treatment, using so-called sterile maggots, sounded pretty sour. I wondered then whether blood letting or leeches would be the next wound treatment to resurface.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The newly rediscovered ancient treatment is much sweeter – honey. It has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activity.
Until one of my correspondents, Kit Emory, brought this old-new treatment to my attention, all that I knew about honey was that it was a wonderful natural sweetener with an average glycemic index of 55, which puts it in the low glycemic range. But that average masks a wide range of different types of honey, all the way from 32 for Romanian locust honey to 87 for an unspecified variety of honey tested in Canada.
The range of antibacterial activity for different types of honey is even greater, according to a comprehensive new review of “The Evidence Supporting the Use of Honey as a Wound Dressing” by Professor Peter Molan of New Zealand’s University of Waikato. The International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds published his review in its May 2006 issue. The full text is online.
Dr. Molan says there that, “What is often not taken into account is that honeys can vary as much
as 100-fold in the potency of their anti-bacterial activity.” Honey from the Leptospermum scoparium shrub, commonly known in New Zealand as manuka honey, is higher than the average of most honeys.
I’ve never eaten manuka honey, but Wikipedia says that it is darker and richer in taste than clover honey. Nobody has measured its glycemic index yet.
No matter. It’s too good to just eat.
Honey is a wonderful alternative to having maggots eat away at your wound as well as to the typical antibiotics used today. While the use of both honey and maggots is uncommon in the U.S., honey is being used successfully in Europe, particularly in Germany. Doctors at the Bonn University Children’s Hospital have used honey to treat wounds in at least 50 children in whom chemotherapy had weakened their immune response.
Doctors in the U.S. routinely use antibiotics to treat wounds and have done so ever since they became available in the 1940s. But now that more and more infections are becoming drug-resistant, more and more medical professionals are considering methods that worked in the pre-antibiotic age.
Honey certainly has a long history of use for treating wounds. As far back as some two thousand years ago the Romans used honey to treat wounds, according to Dr. Thomas Stuttaford, writing in London’s Times last year.
After all these years, however, we still don’t have the strongest scientific evidence for the value of using honey in the treatment of wounds. That evidence would be a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The evidence that Professor Molan reviewed did not in any case reach that high standard. He also disclosed in his review that he has consulted for companies that sell honey for wound care.
“It is near impossible to conduct a double-blind trial of honey as a wound dressing, because of the difficulty of keeping obscured from the patients that a material as recognizable as honey is being used…the aroma is immediately recognized,” Professor Molan writes. Still, Professor Jennifer Eddy of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is conducting the first double-blind study. Dr. Eddy has successfully used honey to treat leg ulcers in some of her patients.
Three companies, one American, one Australian, and one New Zealander, provide medical grade manuka honey. They are Advancis Pharmaceutical Corp. in Germantown, Maryland; Medihoney in Australia; and Comvita in New Zealand.
I hope that none of you will ever need to know about honey for treating leg wounds as a result of your diabetes or otherwise. But if you ever do, may you remember to discuss this sweet remedy with your doctor.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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