Sweet! Honey That Heals Wounds

While diabetics have limited options for treating persistent sores, Manuka honey seems to work.

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Honey isn't just a food these days. It's gaining ground among doctors as an ointment for helping wounds heal. That's sweet news for diabetics, who tend to develop persistent and serious skin injuries.

It's not any old honey, though, that has medical experts energized. It's a certain type, called Manuka honey, that has particularly potent antimicrobial properties. Manuka honey comes only from New Zealand and Australia, countries where there are swaths of Manuka bushes (Leptospermum scoparium), a type of evergreen on which bees can forage. Other types of honey have some antimicrobial properties, but they lack key substances that make Manuka honey so potent. So, don't raid the pantry for the nearest honey jar. Dousing wounds with store-bought honey, which isn't medical grade, can be a disaster, experts warn. In fact, it's likely to worsen the wound if bandages aren't changed very frequently, and it might contain problematic microorganisms, since it hasn't been irradiated the way medical grade Manuka honey is. To get the potent stuff, you'll have to talk to a doctor who can order a prescription for Medihoney. That medical device, manufactured by the company Derma Sciences, is the only FDA-cleared, honey-infused wound dressing on the American market.

Other companies, such as New York-based Honeymark, sell honey-based wound creams and lotions online. (Honeymark's products also contain Manuka honey, but they are less tightly regulated by the FDA and aren't necessarily consistent from batch to batch.) Honeymark also offers honey-derived anti-itch and pain creams and says it has plans to begin selling soaps and hand sanitizers containing Manuka honey within the next few weeks.