You may have heard that honey can heal wounds. It was used during ancient times as a wound dressing because of its antimicrobial capabilities. However, if only a few people know about honey as a healing agent, even fewer people know that sugar is one as well. In fact, in more remote parts of the world, sugar is something of a staple when it comes to dealing with cuts and open wounds. Sometimes a little old-world wisdom can make a difference, even in the wake of advanced medicine. This is one of those cases.
The secret of this particular cure is in the way it absorbs moisture. Bacteria, like pretty much all living things, need some level of moisture to survive. When any excess is absorbed by granules of sugar, it is then denied to bacteria. As such, the bacteria will die off. Without the presence of an infection that bacteria brings, the wound can heal much faster.
Because sugar is widely available, even in rural, impoverished, or third world areas, this sort of discovery is great for those who may not have access to antibiotics. Aside from that, sugar’s status as an antibiotic alternative means that it may be an option to protect wounds in situations where antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem.
The proof is in the pudding, or the sugar, anyway. Starting with the trials conducted by Moses Murandu, and including several other studies, there are many examples of sugar dealing with antibiotic-resistant wound bacteria. Currently, there is some difficulty funding the research, considering that sugar is not a pharmaceutical which could then be patented after being recognized as a cure. Nonetheless, sugar remains in use in various medical scenarios around the world.
Many different sugars have been tested. According to Murandu’s results, beet sugar works just as well as cane sugar, while Demerara seems to be less effective than either. Higher concentrations of sugar prevented bacterial strains from taking hold at all. In lower concentrations, bacteria grew a little. While that might not sound impressive, consider one of Murandu’s first cases: a woman with a five-year old wound. Because of this grievous injury, which had been slow to heal, doctors were planning to amputate the woman’s foot. However, Murandu’s advice saved her leg: he told her to wash the wound and apply sugar. This process, over time, healed the wound.
This woman is not the only one. In the UK, Murandu has performed clinical studies on nearly 50 patients, presenting the results at various national and international conferences. He has even studied the effects of using sugar in this way on diabetic patients. Given that people with diabetes have to keep their glucose in check, it’s understandable that a sugar treatment for diabetics wouldn’t seem like a good idea, despite the slowed healing of wounds that is a symptom of diabetes.
However, using sugar to treat the wounds of those with diabetes did not cause their blood glucose levels to rise tremendously, despite what one might expect. This is because the enzyme that transforms sugar (sucrose) into glucose is found deeper inside the body. Sugar applied to surface wounds does not get absorbed into the body like it would if it were eaten, which means it does not turn into glucose.
Sugar and honey have not just been used in human trials. Both are used in veterinary procedures as well. Because of their low cost and high availability, they offer a convenient alternative to more costly treatments, particularly for pet owners who might not be able to regularly visit a clinic or cover the costs of sedation. While honey is a bit more expensive than sugar, there are some studies that suggest it is even more effective. Either way, both of these can speed recovery at a low cost, and again, present an alternative to antibiotics.
Recently, the research of University of Sheffield’s tissue engineering specialist Sheila MacNeil has demonstrated how naturally occurring sugars stimulate the regrowth of blood vessels. While this sugar is different than table sugar, it also has applications, considering it caused the number of blood vessels to double. Finding a sugar that works well internally, as well as externally, would be best, and it presents a new direction for research. Likewise, more funding for researching the use of sugar on wounds (and perhaps a more widely adopted and sanctioned use of sugar this way in the medical world) would do wonders for patients all over the world. For now, however, it will continue to help those in impoverished countries who do not have access to better medicines.