Friday, October 10, 2008

Honey Helps Heal Diabetic Foot Wounds

The Healing Power of Honey
In diabetes, wounds that won’t heal are a big problem, and honeybees may have the answer
By Adam Voiland, U.S. News & World Report, 10/7/2008

Wound care is problematic for people with diabetes. A mere nick from an ill-fitting shoe or hangnail haphazardly cut can fester for months and develop into a gaping ulcer teeming with bacteria. Foot ulcers, in fact, are the most common reason people with diabetes are hospitalized, and studies show that an alarming 1 out of 5 people with an infected ulcer ends up undergoing amputation. Recently, however, researchers have started to find that an ancient and affordable remedy—a dab of a certain type of honey with potent antimicrobial properties—is a worthy weapon against an ulcer that refuses to heal.

People like Rita Arsenault, a retired bank administrator from Methuen, Mass., can vouch for what honey can do. Arsenault, who has diabetes and developed a gaping sore near her toe after a nighttime spider bite, says she could nearly see her tendon when the silver-dollar-size wound had reached its peak. (Diabetes typically worsens ulcers by making it more difficult for the body to replace infected tissue with healthy skin.) Some doctors Arsenault consulted recommended a skin graft, but there's a good chance that wouldn't have worked, she says, in which case she most likely would have lost her foot. Instead, she went with a doctor who was willing to try treating her with honey-infused bandages. After a little more than a month, her foot ulcer was gone. "I hardly even have a scar," she says.

Using honey to treat wounds is hardly a new idea. Anthropologists have found evidence showing ancient Egyptians used the approach as far back as 5,000 years ago. Aristotle wrote of using the sweet stuff as a salve for wounds around 350 B.C. The practice has persisted to the present day in certain tribal areas in Africa. Yet the bulk of the 2 million Americans with chronic foot ulcers probably aren't aware of honey's curative power, says Peter Molan, a researcher at the University of Waikato in New Zealand who has been studying honey's properties for decades.

Research suggests that honey's microbe-killing ability stems from its tendency to dehydrate bacteria and its high acidity. Yet the antimicrobial potency of different strains of honey varies as much as 100-fold, and scientists are still working to pinpoint specific substances that make some types so much more potent than others. The most potent, for example, is a strain called Manuka honey, which is produced mainly in New Zealand…

In addition to its antimicrobial qualities, honey offers other pluses for patients. Research suggests that honey dressing may be less painful to use and cause less scarring. Certain potent types even seem to be effective against MRSA, a particularly irksome type of staph infection that's resistant to antibiotics. Plus, honey bandages are cheaper than many of the other options and easy for patients to apply, says Steven Kavros, a podiatrist and wound specialist at the Mayo Clinic…

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