03 April 2018

The efficacy of sugar in wound healing

This is not new information, but the BBC has a nice brief review:
As a child growing up in poverty in the rural Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, Moses Murandu was used to having salt literally rubbed in his wounds when he fell and cut himself. On lucky days, though, his father had enough money to buy something which stung the boy much less than salt: sugar...

To treat a wound with sugar, all you do, Murandu says, is pour the sugar on the wound and apply a bandage on top. The granules soak up any moisture that allows bacteria to thrive. Without the bacteria, the wound heals more quickly...

The sugar Murandu uses is the plain, granulated type you might use to sweeten your tea... he found that it worked for diabetics without sending their glucose levels soaring. “Sugar is sucrose – you need the enzyme sucrase to convert that into glucose,” he says. As sucrase is found within the body, it is only when the sugar is absorbed that it is converted. Applying it to the outside of the wound isn’t going to affect it in the same way...

McMichael, who works at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, first started using both sugar and honey on pets back in 2002. She said it was a combination of the simplicity of the method and the low cost that attracted her – especially for pet owners who couldn’t afford the usual methods of bringing the animal to the hospital and using sedation.

McMichael says that they keep both sugar and honey in their surgery and often used it on dogs and cats (and occasionally on farm animals). Honey has similar healing properties to sugar (one study found it to be even more effective at inhibiting bacterial growth), though it is more expensive...

As well as being cheaper, sugar has another upside: as more and more antibiotics are used, we are becoming resistant to them.
Anyone who doubts that wounds can be difficult to treat has never seen a sacral decubitus ulcer that has burrowed down to the level of the vertebral bodies.  I do hope that more attention is paid to non-antibiotic interventions.


  1. I read about this some years back re south american cane cutters and the horrific, but perfectly healed, scars they had.
    The explanation given was that salt dried out, but did not always kill, bacteria whereas sugar caused them to try to absorb enough water to even out their inner levels and they exploded.

  2. I've used honey on wounds. They never get infected and heal quickly.

  3. As a nurse's aide in the 60s, I watched older nurses apply sugar and maalox to deep decubitus sores. They began healing almost immediately and would reduce in size and fill in with healthy tissue within days of regular applications. As I understand it, the maalox has a slight analgesic effect by reducing the burning sensation, while the sugar works as you described. They also used heat lamps after applying this dressing to help with the drying.

    1. I have heard of Maalox for decubiti, but haven't seen it in use. I wonder if it also acts as a desiccant, because when it spills on someone's chin and isn't wiped away, it dries to a white crust.

  4. i have known about this for a number of years - in particular, using honey - and it is nice read about the efficacy.


  5. We use sugar to pack abcesses in horses' hooves. If they are fresh, we add betadine surgical scrub to the sugar. Works well.

  6. We do still use sugar for wound healing. Of course, it's been packaged & monetized as medi-honey, but some still do it the old fashioned way too. I remember the maalox with the sugar too, Nora. I haven't seen that combo used in a while, but at least the sugar is still in use.


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