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How Can Manuka Honey Help to Heal Wounds?

Physicians and nurses with years of experience talk about the benefits of sugar or honey to help heal wounds. Are there data to support such old treatments?

We first heard about the use of sugar to heal wounds from orthopedic surgeon, Richard A, Knutson, MD. He pointed out that the battlefield surgeons of ancient Egypt used honey and grease to heal wounds over 4,000 years ago. Here is a link to his story. Modern medicine is slowly catching up.

Dr. Knutson’s research was published in the Southern Medical Journal in November, 1981. Italian investigators have put his sugar-iodine formula to the test and found it worked much better for stubborn head and neck wounds in cancer patients than conventional therapies (International Wound Journal, Aug. 2019).

Q. When I worked in a nursing home three decades ago, the nurses would use a mixture of A&D Ointment and a packet of table sugar to heal bedsores. It worked like magic!

Now I hear manuka honey is the best way to go. I keep it in the medicine cabinet for treating wounds and sores.

Manuka Honey to Heal Wounds:

A. The history of honey for helping wounds heal dates back at least to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (Bioengineering, June 14, 2018). When antibiotics were introduced, however, doctors lost interest in using honey for wounds. In the past few decades, scientists have found that manuka honey (made by bees visiting the flowers of a New Zealand plant, Leptospermum scoparium) has potent antibacterial activity (PLOS One, Dec. 28, 2016).

Some Italian honey from bees visiting honeydew flowers is comparable to manuka honey in antimicrobial activity (Schweizer Archiv fur Tierheilkunde, July 2016). Moreover, Australian honey from a type of eucalyptus can suppress skin fungus (Pathogens, Feb. 11, 2021).

In addition, researchers found that a combination of honey and citrus pectin resulted in the fastest wound healing (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, May 16, 2017). The scientists prepared their concoction by mixing liquid manuka honey with an equal amount of sterile deionized water. They then added an equal volume of powdered pectin little by little, stirring continuously. The resulting foam was spread on a backing and dried with hot air. In an experimental rat study, this topical formula was surprisingly effective for healing wounds.

A recent review acknowledges that “…honey is used mainly in topical cutaneous wound care because of its potent broad-spectrum antibacterial and wound healing activities” (Drug Resistance Updates, May, 2022).

These scientists conclude:

“Honey is a valuable alternative to conventional antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory therapies that can strongly reduce nosocomial [hospital-acquired] infections.”

Sugar for Wound Care:

Dr. Knutson shared his experience using “Sugardyne” a few years before his death. Here is his first hand account.

Stories from Readers:

Malgorzata shares how sugar heals wounds:

“My husband had a very bad motorcycle accident about 4 months ago. We had this brilliant doctor from Colombia. He told the nurses to pack his wounds with sugar. It was amazing how fast it was healing. It was faster than regular packing and less painful.”

T.A. is a registered nurse with a lot of experience:

“I am an RN who often works with frail elderly. When a caregiver told me about sugar to heal the constant skin tears we see, I thought she was nuts. But it worked far better than anything I have ever seen in 20 years of nursing. These poor people can have skin tears of their fragile skin that never heal otherwise. The wounds cause them great pain and often become infected.

“I have used it on myself and my animals with the same astounding results. Just plain sugar without the Betadine, washed off, reapplied and bandaged if necessary, every day. Yes, we use Betadine scrub in surgery. But is it good to have Betadine in constant skin contact, especially for wounds that take time to heal? I know the sugar works, almost like magic.”

Roy W. shared this story about his uncle:

“I had an uncle who was a nurse in a rest home near Cisco, TX, about 30 years ago. He had a patient with bad bedsores and could not get them to respond to any treatment. An old Indian was there and noticed my uncle’s problem. The Indian told my uncle to put sugar on the wound and bandage it.

“My uncle was skeptical but did this as a last resort. To his amazement, in a few days the wounds began to heal. He tried it on other patients with the same amazing results.

“Where the old Indian learned of this was uncertain. Must have been a tradition handed down through the tribe.”

Joe used the sugar treatment on his dog:

“I used this remedy on my 15-year-old 75 pound dog. It did in two weeks what no vet was able to do in a year.

“I cleaned the large wound (approx. 2 sq. inches) daily and applied a covering of Betadine and white sugar. WOW! In 2 weeks all is well.”

More on Manuka Honey to Heal Wounds:

From a reader:

“You can also check out the use of raw manuka honey that comes from New Zealand. There, a university has done has been extensive testing done on its use in healing open wounds. This antibacterial honey helps heal wounds in the same way as sugar. It is being used extensively on dressings in hospitals in England, as this honey is very resistant to MRSA bacteria.

“A couple of years ago, my husband, who has bad circulation in his lower legs, had a big wound that was not healing. Constant use of Betadine was starting to break down the surrounding skin. In desperation we did our own research and started treating it with manuka honey. We cleaned it daily with saline solution and then applied the honey to a non-stick dressing. It began to look healthier immediately and eventually healed well.

“We were in France at the time, and our doctor said they were beginning to use the manuka dressings in hospitals there as well. You can usually find this in health food stores. It has different grades, and the references I had recommended level 15.”

Read Dr. Knutson’s article: “Sugar for Wound Care” at this link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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