Jennifer Eddy, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, has launched a randomized, double-blind controlled trial investigating this area. There are about 200 million diabetics in the world today, and perhaps 30 million of them will develop an ulcer, mostly due to poor sensation in their feet.
It’s estimated that every 30 seconds someone around the globe must have an amputation caused by a diabetic foot ulcer. In 2001, it cost $10.9 billion to treat diabetic ulcers and amputations in American patients. The use of honey in treating foot ulcers, Eddy said, represents “[a huge] potential health care savings. Unsuccessful conventional care for ulcers can cost thousands of dollars. Therapy with honey may only cost a few hundred.”
Half of the participants in Eddy’s study will be randomly placed in the honey-therapy category. The other half will receive a wound-care gel made from non-medically active components to impart to it the color and flavor of honey. The ulcers will be tracked by expert podiatrists to measure how quickly they heal.
Eddy warned that patients shouldn’t use honey on their ulcers at home without the guidance of a doctor. “Unfortunately,” she said, “diabetic ulcers are very complicated, and honey would only be part of the solution.” Other aspects of good therapy would include keeping weight off the sore and the sterile removal of dead skin and bacteria from the lesion.
Because people with diabetes have diminished blood circulation, their ability to fight infection is sharply impaired. Non-healing ulcers that have been treated for long periods with oral antibiotics become a haven for antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. But honey therapy represents a possible knockout blow because honey appears able to kill bacteria in multiple ways at once, giving the microbes no chance to develop resistance. For example, honey has an acidic pH that’s deadly for germs, a low water content that dehydrates the bugs, and enzymes that produce antiseptic hydrogen peroxide.