Can honey treat a wound? What a sweet idea.

Smeared on a burn, the sticky elixir could reduce the time it takes for the wound to heal up to four days sooner in some cases a new review of studies suggests.

However, honey used with compression bandages does not significantly increase healing of venous leg ulcers and the jury is still out on honey's effectiveness for other wounds, according to Andrew Jull and colleagues at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

"The evidence currently does not support the use of honey on acute wounds such as abrasions and lacerations or on minor, uncomplicated wounds left to heal…following surgery," Jull said.

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews like this one draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Honey's history as a topical ointment for wounds stretches back into antiquity. An Egyptian surgical text, written on papyrus between 2600 and 2200 B.C., recommends the treatment, as do the Greek, Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions. Later, caregivers used honey-soaked bandages until topical antibiotics became widely available after World War II.

Jennifer Eddy, M.D., a University of Wisconsin researcher who is completing a study on honey treatments for diabetic foot ulcers, says patients might consider honey as part of an interest in alternative medicine or following a bad reaction to other topical treatments.

"Topical honey is cheaper than other interventions, notably oral antibiotics, which are often used and may have other deleterious side effects," she said.

Honey can draws moisture out of cells and contains hydrogen peroxide, both of which help kill off infectious bacteria. Some varieties of honey have other antibacterial properties as well, the Cochrane researchers note.

The review included 19 studies with 2,554 participants. Although the honey treatment healed moderate burns faster than traditional dressings did, Jull recommends viewing the findings with caution, since a single researcher performed all of the burn studies.

For the moment, Jull said, "health services should refrain from providing honey dressing for routine use" for most other wounds until there are more studies that show its effectiveness.

At present, people most often use honey after trying other treatments, "when the wound was not improving with standard therapy," Eddy said.

The review discloses that Cochrane authors were researchers in one of the leg ulcer studies included in the review and that the research unit that employs the authors received a small cash contribution from a manufacturer of honey dressings to conduct the ulcer study.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Health Behavior News Service:

Jull AB, Rodgers A, Walker N. Honey as a topical treatment for wounds. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 4.

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international nonprofit, independent organization that produces and disseminates systematic reviews of health care interventions and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other studies of interventions. Visit for more information.

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