Surgeons are being advised to consider the supermarket as well as the drugs cupboard when it comes to effective wound healing, according to a research review published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.
And patients who've undergone surgery should ask their doctors whether they should apply honey to their wounds to speed up healing and reduce infection.
"Honey is one of the oldest foods in existence and was an ancient remedy for wound healing" explains lead author Dr Fasal Rauf Khan from North West Wales NHS Trust in Bangor. "It was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun and was still edible as it never spoils."
Honey is enjoying a revival as more reports of its effectiveness are published, he adds.
"Researchers started to document the wound healing properties of honey in the early 20th century, but the introduction of antibiotics in 1940 temporarily halted its use.
"Now concerns about antibiotic resistance, and a renewed interest in natural remedies, has prompted a resurgence in the antimicrobial and wound healing properties of honey.
"Honey has a number of properties that make it effective against bacterial growth, including its high sugar content, low moisture content, gluconic acid -- which creates an acidic environment -- and hydrogen peroxide. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling."
Researchers have also reported that applying honey can be used to reduce amputation rates among diabetes patients.
Stressing that patients should always check with their surgeon before applying any substance to post-operative wounds, Dr Khan adds that studies have found that honey offers a number of benefits.
"It can be used to sterilise infected wounds, speed up healing and impede tumours, particularly in keyhole surgery."
Studies have suggested that honey should be applied at regular intervals, from hourly to twice daily and that wounds can become sterile in three to 10 days.
"The research suggests that honey seems to be especially indicated when wounds become infected or fail to close or heal" says Dr Khan. "It is probably even more useful for healing the wounds left by laparoscopic surgery to remove cancers."
18 studies covering more than 60 years were included in the review. The authors also looked at other substances used for wound healing, including maggots, which were also commonly used before the introduction of antibiotics and are enjoying a revival.
The team also discovered an ancient manuscript that used wine dregs, juniper prunes and beer, but point out that that has not been tried and tested in recent years!
"Our research suggests that surgeons should seriously consider using honey for post-operative wounds and offer this to patients" concludes Dr Khan. "We would also encourage patients to ask about honey as an option, but stress that they should always follow their surgeon's advice and not try any home remedies."
Reference: Honey: nutritional and medicinal value. Khan et al. IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice. 61.10, pp 1705-1707. (October 2007)
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