a spoonful of sugar

by R. David Anderson, B.S., R.Ph., D.Sc

A brief item appeared in the PEOPLE’S PHARMACY in which the healing value of sugar for skin tears was lauded. You responded that Dr. Richard Knutson was an early researcher who published his findings regarding sugar’s healing qualities in a respected medical journal in 1981 (South Med J. 1981; 74: 1329-36) History demands a clarification. Dr. Knutson was, in fact, a “Johnny come lately.” The journal states that he and his co-authors began their research in January 1976.

I began my 60+ year career in hospital pharmacy at the Medical College of Virginia and eventually retired at the Waynesboro Community Hospital in Waynesboro, VA. (WCH). Dr. Treacy O’Hanlon was a general surgeon at WCH who also held a joint appointment as principal surgeon and consultant at the widely recognized Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in nearby Fishersville, VA. Most of his patients were para- and quadriplegics with decubitus ulcers and pressure sores who suffered long, painful and difficult to heal skin ulcers, often deep into bone or muscle tissue. Dr. O’Hanlon had instructed the nursing staffs at both facilities to place table sugar into these wounds which he found effective, but did not remain in place for extended periods. Consequently it required frequent re-dressing, which was not without additional pain for the patient.

I arrived at the Waynesboro Community Hospital in 1964 as Director of Pharmacy Services. Dr. O’Hanlon asked me almost immediately if I could devise some sort of “paste” containing the highest concentration of sugar possible. After multiple attempts, I found that by combining simple syrup, containing 85% sugar, and a sufficient quantity of Eucerin (Aquaphor) ointment, a smooth, easily applied, and easily removed “paste” with a concentration of about 50% sugar would result. It became standard treatment at both institutions and was frequently requested by the staff at University of Virginia and other regional hospitals to manage difficult-to-treat bed sores and other conditions. My wife, a registered nurse who also worked closely with Dr. O’Hanlon and his patients, gladly submits that this composition worked wonders with managing these skin and tissue complications while improving infection control and reducing nursing costs.

I have no idea how many patients we might have treated over many years, but Dr. Knutson deserves credit for defining the use of sugar at least 12 years following Dr. O’Hanlon, who never published his findings.


R. David Anderson, B.S., R.Ph., D.Sc

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  1. Cary

    I burned myself one day on a cast iron skillet. Usually I have baking soda on hand for minor burns as it wicks away pain like nothing else…until I discovered the power of honey.
    So here I am in the kitchen, fingers ka-THUMPing away with that almost unbearable pain from the minor burn. I just instinctively grabbed a jar of raw honey and smeared it on my fingers, and used strips of paper towel as “bandages” to keep the honey in place. The honey took away the pain RIGHT AWAY and…when I removed the paper towel (which had dried after an hour) there was NO sign that I had burned myself. No blistering, redness or shiny skin. It was like nothing happened.

  2. K. Beatty

    A cut on my six-year old son’s knee had become infected with a pus-filled boil. I took him to urgent care, where they diagnosed it as MRSA and prescribed antibiotics. Fortunately, this boil started draining on it’s own, so they didn’t have to lance it, but he had a lump forming under another cut on his arm. I remembered a segment on your show about the power of sugar, and mixed up a batch of powdered sugar and canola oil. I found a recipe for a 3 1/2 to 1 ratio. I put this on both wounds, and over night, you would not believe the difference. The lump under the cut on the arm was gone, and this wound had started draining. I’m keeping them covered, with the sugar mixture on them, changing them twice daily. So far so good. I know people who have had such a hard time getting MRSA under control, and in addition to the prescribed antibiotics, sugar just seems like a good additional treatment. Oh, and I’m giving him probiotics as well to combat any negative effects of the antibiotics.
    The People’s Pharmacy rocks!!! Thanks Joe and Terry.

  3. Franny

    Thanks for that suggestion, I’ll try it…

  4. CM

    I have tried the sugar and water treatment for cuts/abrasions with my thin skin.
    I’m wondering if there is a treatment to help my skin get healthier, thicker.
    The issue is primarily with my left arm and I am 72 years old.
    Any ideas?

  5. Mary N.

    You might try coconut oil. I used to get purple “bruise” spots on my arms frequently but after applying coconut oil morning and night, my skin stays clear. Order a jar from Amazon (they have one brand that’s very popular and I use it) or get it at places like Whole Foods or Earth Fare or Trader Joes. It comes in a jar like cold cream and liquifies when you spread it on the skin. You can also cook with it (like olive oil) and it’s very healthy.

  6. Eleanor K.

    What a wonderful report. Your site is a community discussion forum that reaches far and wide in topics and responses. Ellie

  7. fas

    I too am on plavix and experience terrible bruising on both my arms on contact with any object. They turn purple within 10 minutes or so.
    I’ve tried putting cold but that didn’t work. I rarely tear the skin; just the bruising.
    thanks for your comments

  8. fas

    I too am on plavix and I am plagued by nasty bruising on my arms. Just the slightest contact and within 10 minutes I have a nasty bruise that lasts for weeks. I’ve only had one where the skin actually “tore” and of course it did bleed. The bruising is quite embarassing, as you can well imagine. long sleeves are in order even in summer when I have a really bad one………
    any suggestions? I’ve tried putting a cold compress as soon as it happens, but it didn’t help at all.
    thanks for your help

  9. mike h.

    I am a 65 year old quadriplegic trying to heal a surgical wound on my hip for the past 17 months. We’ve mostly been using silver alginate to heal the wound. The problem is that the wound will heal in some places, but then will form new tunnels in what seems to be a never-ending cycle. Does anyone have experience with using the sugardine to heal tunneling on the fascia?

  10. Karen

    I have had great success with honey. Honey is an analgesic and antiseptic. It will pull together cuts as if they had stitches. Heals burns, even bad ones with no blisters or scars. Use for bedsores and also shingles. It takes the pain out of the shingles upon contact and makes them bearable.

    • Dick

      I’ll second Karen’s comments about honey. It’s a natural antibiotic and never goes bad – and it really works. I also use it on accidental bites or scratches that happen when playing with my cat – use a toothpick to spread some honey on the pad of a Band-Aid, and put that on the wound. Heals quickly and leaves no marks or scars. Its use for burns has been documented many times.

  11. Melody

    I recently heard about sugar being healing when a fawn was born on our property. It was discovered that one of its eyes was infected and actually was closed over. My helper picked it up and brought it into the barn where I cleaned it and inspected it.
    One of the employees from Mexico said to put sugar on the eye because that’s what he’d been taught to do with goats with infections. We did it to the fawn and put her back where she was picked up. The next day the eye looked much better!
    Since telling others about it, I’ve been surprised at how many people know about the healing power of sugar. Thanks for getting out the word about something so simple that works without harmful chemicals!

  12. Andrew P.

    I am an 85 year old with skin that tears easily, and I take Plavix. Bleeding is difficult to control. I think you noted that pepper is good to cause clotting and scab formation, which I found to be useful. Has anyone tried combining sugar and pepper?

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