a spoonful of sugar

Q. I graduated from nursing school in 1986. My first job was in long-term care. Unfortunately, we had a few patients with large bedsores. We were told to mix up a batch of sugar and Betadine gel so we could pack the wounds and cover with a sterile dressing.

The results were sometimes amazing. When all else fails, some of the old-time remedies do work well.

A. We first heard about this approach from a reader of this column 25 years ago. After some sleuthing we found an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan. 8, 1973) describing the use of sugar for hard-to-treat bed sores. The physician described an 80 percent healing rate over five years of study. He speculated that the granules create local irritation that stimulates tissue formation and wound repair.

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  1. lolly
    mablton GA .

    Is it. Iodine good. Yo put on bedsores !!!!!

  2. Jan

    I have a friend who is, and has been, diabetic all of his life, sixty-plus years. I’m familiar with this process of packing and cleaning the wound from past years when I worked in an elderly facility but I couldn’t remember if we used it if the patient was diabetic. Please inform me “IF THIS IS SAFE” for the “diabetic patient.” It worked really well then. Please reply soon. Thanks, concerned friend.

  3. nanette
    cebu philippines

    I’m nanette, my husband is badly bedridden, had bedsores…. I want accurate ratio about that sugar and betadine..please email me..

    god bless and thank you..

  4. Barbara Anderson


  5. Teri M.

    Please indicate the measurements needed for making the sugar – iodine mixture. I need asap. Thank you so much!

    • sally
      st louis

      Hi My husband 86 was in hospital bedridden for a month with c- diff they could not clear up the bed sores they bleed, they used spray and destin but came home & they are bad, what is the formula need asap he, still is on an antibiotic

  6. Margaret J Perry

    I forgot to check the box for follow up comments

  7. Margaret J Perry

    Thank you for your comments. I just found this web site. I had used this mix “once” years ago and have told the story of success hundreds of times. I am so pleased to read of how you have used it…
    Your Margaret

  8. Margaret J Perry

    In 1985 I was an independent home health aide for an older couple. Their children hired an agency to send a nurse once a week, to give me all the specific medical instructions for their care.
    The husband had Parkinsons and he was bedfast. He had to be lifted with a Hoyer lift, from bed to wheelchair etc. He had a bed sore on his right heel. The sore was open almost to the bone and two inches wide.
    My instructions for treatment was twice a day;
    1. Wash with soap and water, blot dry,
    2. Rinse with peroxide, blot dry,
    3. Pack wound with iodine and sugar mixture,
    4. Cover with a sterile gauze.
    I did as instructed. I don’t remember how long this took to heal, no pun intended. But heal it did and the agency nurse was so pleased with the results that she assured me that I would be a welcome addition to her agency should I ever so desire to work for them.
    I myself was so impressed with the healing that I have recounted this story hundreds of times. But I have never had reason to use this treatment again.

  9. Jrs

    The remedy/treatment used on my Mother was a paste made with sugar and whiskey. This was administered by her sister when she developed bed (pressure) sores. The results were wonderful. The nurses in the facility said it was a great cure but they could not administer because it was not an assigned medication. This sugar/whiskey paste worked when others didn’t.
    Perhaps the Betadine is a “newer” substitute for the whiskey.

  10. fng

    The advice about not using it on dark skinned people is silly.
    I understand the logic behind it if you have another treatment that works as well and doesn’t leave the scaring or whatever. But if you haven’t anything else, I’m pretty sure the dark skinned person would rather have light patches that are healed than he would want open painful festering bed sores. Sugar in that concentration, despite being a food source for bacteria, will cause an aseptic environment similar to the use of honey to treat small wounds.
    Iodine in addition to having antiseptic properties, also actively promotes tissue regeneration. As to the reason that its not generally recommended by doctors: one, its cheap and easy and doctors are trained to go the “best” most expensive route most of the time. It’s not a prescription, so no one can take the doctor to the Bahamas to be flirted with by some islander in a grass skirt to make him more likely to prescribe it.
    Three: its too damn simple, it leaves them open to too much liability, if they prescribe it to some one and that person dies or gets worse, they could be sued for malpractice and when questioned about the standard treatment of bedsores they will say one thing and when asked what the treatment they prescribed, they will say something else. When asked why they prescribed this they will have nothing to offer that can’t be ripped apart, so that’s why they generally won’t even talk about sugar therapy.

  11. SDD

    Robert, I have never heard of the use of sugar topically affecting a diabetics
    blood sugar!!! There is a very distinct difference between sugar levels in the blood, and topical use of sugar.

  12. Shirley C.

    Amy, do not use it then. Always do a small test spot for 24 hrs. on the inner forearm before using this treatment. Also do not use it on people with dark skin as the wound will heal light colored. You can mix a little honey with the sugar but I found people complained of increased pain when I did that so I do not use honey at all. Some people do use honey only for wounds but I have not.

  13. Amy

    What if you’re allergic to Iodine?

  14. .JBH

    Twenty years ago I had basal cell skin cancer. My doctor cut it out did a skin graft and said I should use a combination of table sugar and povidone-iodine to promote healing. It worked like magic. The ratio was either 1 tsp of sugar to 2 ounces of iodine or 1 tsp of sugar to 4 ounces of iodine. I forget which, could you help me with the correct ratio?

  15. SAC

    Betadine and sugar combination does not increase blood sugars. I have used it to removed eshcar from black stumps after amputations, decubitus ulcers, non-healing post surgical wounds, leg ulcers, etc. As for the recipe for mixing-that depends on the amount of drainage from the wound. If the wound is draining a lot-use more sugar, less betadine and vice versa-if dry use more betadine. You just want a moist mixture.
    Start out color of the mixture should look about the yellow color of popular lead pencil paint (golden orange color. Be sure you use Betadine Ointment-not the surgical scrub betadine. Put some sort of cream, or ointment up to the edge of the wound. Irrigate gently the sugar from the wound at least twice a day-three times is preferable using a syringe. Do not scrub the wound and it is not necessary to remove all the sugar mixture with each irrigation.
    It should NOT be used on persons with dark skin as it will heal white colored and it should not be used if there is tunneling present. That is to say there are tracks going out from certain areas of the body and you do not want the mixture to get in under the skin in those tracks. This is where your medical help can be of assistance.
    I have also used honey for leg ulcers as it seems to adhere better but the patients complained of increased pain using it so I did not have good luck with that. Put a dressing over the wound and be sure you use a skin barrier under any tape you may use so you do not end up with another sore. Hopefully this is helpful to some of you and answers some of your questions.
    Have also used it on a deep chest wound of a horse and just dumped sugar in the wound twice a day and healed with minimal scar. You can use just plain sugar if someone is allergic to Betadine. To test for allergy-put a small amount of the mixture on the forearm, under a dressing for 24 hours and if there is redness-do not use the Betadine.

  16. Robert

    My wife had hip replacement surgery 11 months ago and the wound has not healed. She has a 2″x 3″ wound on her right hip, which is 3″ deep. She has a history of type 2 diabetes and Fatty liver disease but, is not [Dr’s orders] using diabetes medication at this time.
    My question is: Would Betadine and sugar paste cause a dangerous rise in her blood sugar?
    “Any” advice will certainly be welcomed.
    Many thanks, Robert

  17. Diane P.

    In Answer to PM. When I used it on elderly day care patients, A pharmacist would mix the solution for us. Ask your relative’s Dr. to call your local pharmacist and prescribe Dakins solution. Use twice a day. The black scab, known as eschar, will soften and begin to come off. Someone familiar with wound care should be involved with debridement. Once the wound is clean. The sugar treatments mentioned above work well to hasten healing. The only time they can’t be used is when the wound is so large that grafting is necessary as in the back sides of wheelchair-bound folks. Pharmacists can find the recipe for Dakins and the ratio. Good luck, You were right. A wound covered with eschar will never heal. DP

  18. PM

    DP, if you get this message would you please let me know the ratios and such- my father has a pressure sore on his heal that has like black looking stuff and it appears as if it will never get better. If this would break through and start healing I would be forever grateful.

  19. Greg Pharmacy Student

    I do not think the use of sugar is frowned upon as much as most believe that standard antibiotics work better. Of course, I do not know of any study that has compared these treatments to standard antibiotics to prove that one is better than the other.
    I think that what is happening is the usual fallacy where people believe that just because something is new it must be better. We see this all the time in advertising: “New formulation” “New gel-coating”. These statements are subjective and not usually based in any fact. Advertisers play on this natural human tendency to increase sales, yet carefully don’t make statements like proven to be better than the old product. “New and improved” is purposely vague.
    As for sugar as an antibacterial agent, bacteria like humans tend to prefer candy (sugar) over other forms of food.

    • Naomi D.
      United States

      Hello, I myself have problems using any products containing sugars, I have reactive hypoglycemia and products I use that do have sweeteners give me a problem, I have tried different body soaps that contain honey, coconut oil and others and after a couple days of use I start to not feel good and come to find out my blood sugar has dropped. Even when I do baking I am careful to use gloves when working my hands in sugar…just a bit of information for ya. I do know everyone is different. hope all heals well good luck.

  20. Arnold M.

    November 30, 2011
    I first heard of the use of sugar for cuts, infections and other forms of stubborn sores which wouldn’t heal using western forms of medications. The most astounding and unbelievable case history I read about was of a patient whose scheduled amputation of a leg was postponed and eventually cancelled because of the miracle of sugar treatment. My wife’s sister-in-law has a severe case of bed sore but the doctors will not try a sugar treatment.
    I’ve been a diabetic for roughly forty years. My primary doctor noticed a sore on my foot which wasn’t quite healed. He advised me to stop treating myself with tincture of iodine or arnica and sugar. The podiatrist gave me several packets of Double Antibiotic Ointment to apply to the sore and predicted a total heal in two weeks time. I wasn’t satisfied with the way the pussy head was healing so I reverted back to arnica and sugar on the tenth day. Within three days, the sore spot is looking great. Do you have any idea why the use of sugar is frowned upon?

  21. d foreman

    My dog was viciously attacked by 2 other dogs. He nearly died. His wounds were golf ball size holes, deep enough to show muscles and tendons. His vet sutured what she could and had me bathe him daily with antibacterial soap, and dress the open sores with a sugar, iodine mixture. Then I’d wrap the wounds with gauze. Within 4 days the tissue swelled nice and pink and thick. It really was amazing. He began forming a scab 10 days after beginning this treatment. I’m sure I will use this treatment again.

  22. Allan M

    Use of sugar or honey for bedsores works as a result of the high osmotic pressure which prevents bacterial multiplication and draws fluid out of the surrounding tissues which speeds healing.

  23. Greg Pharmacy Student

    G Smyth,
    Although I have never made this mixture I have heard that the ratio is not that important, just that is be able to be spread on the wound and it should be like wet sand.
    For your information, because of the high concentration of sugar bacteria can not grow. Just like how honey never spoils.

  24. atm

    I would like to contribute my experiences in regards to infectious cuts and bruises that appear to be getting worse in spite of iodine and other medications, including antibiotics. Being a diabetic, I am especially concerned when these wounds don’t appear to be healing. I dip a Q-tip into some arnica and then roll the tip into a mound of table sugar and apply the mixture to the unhealing area. If I’m out of arnica, I use some iodine in its place. The mixture is held in place with bandaids. If the infected area is on a finger or toe, I cut off the ends of elastic gloves and secure it with some tape.
    Usually within a few days, the healing process is noticeable.

  25. dp

    Have used the sugar in long term care and it works if the bedsores are not too deep i.e. tunneling. I worked at a rehab. hospital with lots of wheelchair paraplegics who would come in just to have their pressure-from-sitting wounds healed, or disinfected so they could get skin grafts for the worst of them.
    This South Carolina Rehab. had a new Medical Director from California who began treating all pressure sores with a new treatment-Dakins solution. It is Chlorine and baking soda in sterile water in a particular ratio. It never failed to debride a wound.
    Some of them were covered with a black eschar that doesn’t allow healing. We would pack the wound with gauze soaked in Dakins, spreading petroleum jelly around the edges of the sore to protect the unaffected areas of skin from irritation from the solution. The Dakins would break the black eschar down and debride the infected tissue underneath until only pink, healthy tissue remained, clean enough for skin grafting. This was in the 70’s.

  26. cjp

    Several years ago I worked in a county clinic in a large city. Many homeless patients had sores. They would show up when they could not manage them with sugar packets alone.

  27. RC1956

    Many years ago when I worked in a hospital Milk of Magnesia and Iodine were used as well as egg whites and sugar (brown?). It seemed to work then.

  28. js

    I graduated from nursing school in 1947 from a very prominent school of nursing. On several occasions, when all else failed, in the treating of bed sores, we were told to pack the area with sugar, and without exception, the bedsore was healed. It was amazing to me, that where antibiotics failed, sugar was a success.

  29. G Smyth

    What is the ratio of the mix?

  30. A.C. Hegeman

    In some European health care settings (The Netherlands) honey may be used for bedsores.

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