Posted by: Chris Maloney | October 28, 2013

Losing The Forest For the Trees: Amish Burn Remedies And Modern Medicine.


Honey (Photo credit: alsjhc)

I read with a little confusion a recent study on an Amish burn remedy containing a fairly standard herbal blend: “honey, lanolin, oils, glycerin, bees wax, and other natural additives.”   The researchers were unable to put the burn remedy into their machines, so they took several of the individual constituents, made them into a powder, and tested those instead.  The end result was that they found that the remedy did not work.

But they did admit that the remedy blocked bacterial growth while their individual constituents did not.  Nevertheless, the researchers said “These results suggest caution…if there is more than a minimal risk of complications.”  Basically, not only do they not think the burn remedy works, they think it makes things worse.

The problem with this sort of research is not that the researchers failed to test the remedy and instead tested several less-active parts.  It is that this study will be bundled into some meta-analysis of Amish folk remedies in twenty years that will conclude nothing the Amish are doing works and they need modern medicine to stay well.

If the researchers had known anything about what they were testing, they might have concluded that -of course the burn remedy worked- because it contained, among other things, honey.

The most recent  meta-analysis of honey says as much.  Despite generally panning honey for diabetic ulcers and deeper burns, the Cochrane meta-analysis of honey concluded: “Honey
might be superior to some conventional dressing materials.” Even this conclusion is disturbing because the Cochrane meta-analysis largely discounted many trials as being of low quality.  These “lower quality” trials often occur in “dirt poor” situations where clinical debridement and skin grafting is not an option. In these situations, honey is cheap, readily available, and outperforms the rarer and more expensive medical drugs.

Here are a couple of quotes from these lower quality trials: “Reparative
activity reached 100% by day 21 with the honey dressing and 84% with mafenide acetate. Thus, in honey-dressed wounds, early subsidence of acute inflammatory changes, better control of infection, and quicker wound healing were observed, while in mafenide acetate treated wounds a sustained inflammatory reaction was noted” (full article in French here) If I were the manufacturer of mafenide acetate (I believe it is Mylan Labs) those are words that might cost me money.  If I were a manufacturer of honey, I wouldn’t be thinking about my drug revenue stream.

Here’s another one: “Reparative activity reached 100 per cent by 21 days with the honey dressing and 84 per cent with SSD (silver sulfadiazine). Thus in honey dressed wounds, early subsidence of acute inflammatory changes, better control of infection and quicker wound healing was observed while in the SSD treated wounds sustained inflammatory reaction was noted.” (abstract here)

Now, maybe these studies are faulty.  One was done in Iran in 2011, and the other in India in 1998.  The abstracts are almost exact, except one study used fifty patients and the other twenty-five. Truthfully, I am tempted to assign the second study from Iran to the: “I just copied the other guy’s abstract and plugged in my study numbers” French speaker’s box. But I find it harder to believe that two research teams, one in India and the other in Iran, conspired in the “great honey conspiracy” to promote honey over these pharmaceuticals.

One of the authors redid his original work and published this: “Honey dressings make the wounds sterile in less time, enhance healing, and have a better outcome in terms of hypertropic scars and postburn contractures, as compared to SSD dressings.” (free full text article here)

So, given that the Amish burn dressing had honey plus other good things for the skin, I think it is fair to say that really smart researchers who don’t know what they are doing can really come to the wrong conclusion. You missed the forest for the trees, boys.  Now go down and apologize to that nice Amish grandma who should have known better than to let you boys go tinkering about with things you don’t understand.




  1. We can cure most of the diseases in natural way itself, using resources the nature has given us but instead we are destroying them without even knowing about it …:(

  2. I am continually amazed by our arrogance. Give a man the ability to extract a single bit of a food, and he will claim all the goodness of the whole food for that little speck of powder. We do the same with the earth, and our societies reward those who extract from the society rather than supporting the time-honored structures. But we must hope that we can change.

  3. Exactly !!! If we continue to live this way, I don’t think the future generation will have anything left ….Now we think it is “cool” to get all cosmetic and go away from nature but it is surely gonna backfire at us someday ..

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