Big pharma censors cheap and simply Mesopotamia cure for leg ulcers and wounds
Introducing the new wonder cure… SUGAR! It’s demonised in our diet. But thanks to the Mail, this reader found it can banish leg ulcers
Derek Ripley, 66, from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, has diabetes
For 10 years, his lower legs were constantly covered in agonising ulcers
But when he started pouring sugar on them, they disappeared in a month
By PAT HAGAN FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 00:49, 5 August 2014 | UPDATED: 18:38, 5 August 2014
After a brisk hike in the wilds of the Hebrides, Derek Ripley usually felt tired but invigorated.
The walking breaks with his wife, Judith, and a group of friends were a welcome distraction from his job as a taxi driver in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
But one evening, back at his hotel, he noticed a slightly sore, red patch on his shin, about the size of a 10p piece.
‘I didn’t think too much of it and just went to sleep,’ says father-of-two Derek, 66, who also has three grandchildren.
‘But when I woke next morning the skin over the patch had broken away and there was a little hole in my leg.’
When it failed to heal after a few days, he went to his GP and was tested for type 2 diabetes – leg ulcers are a classic complication of the disease.
Although Derek was slightly overweight, he was quite fit. But there was a family history of the condition, with his mother and brother both affected.
When the result came back positive, it was clear that diabetes had already started to damage his circulation almost beyond repair.
The tiny ulcer was due to damage to the lining of the major blood vessels supplying the lower half of his body – damage caused by constant exposure to raised sugar levels. As circulation suffers, ‘peripheral’ areas such as the skin on the lower legs and feet become starved of nutrients. If the skin gets sore or even slightly injured, it breaks down.
Derek, then in his mid-50s, didn’t know he was about to descend into a ten-year nightmare during which both his lower legs would become covered in ulcers that would not heal. It would leave him in a wheelchair, in almost permanent agony and facing the terrifying threat of his legs being amputated after doctors tried every available treatment without success.
Some ulcers stayed for years. Others cleared up, only to be replaced by more. Every few days, community nurses would call at his home to change his dressings.
At one point he was even referred to a psychiatrist for a mental health assessment, such was the psychological toll. But last year Derek stumbled across a ‘cure’ that sounds so implausible most health professionals would understandably laugh at the idea: sugar.
Ordinary, granulated white sugar – the sort we put in our tea, that costs less than 40p a pound – has proved to be an unlikely remedy.
Poured on to Derek’s weeping wounds, it took a little over a month to heal what costly treatments failed to fix in a decade.
Today Derek’s legs are completely healed, though badly scarred, and he hasn’t had an ulcer in almost 18 months. His wheelchair has been stowed away, he is pain-free, and can walk and even swim.
Derek says: ‘When the final dressings were removed, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe how much my legs had improved.
‘I’ve even managed to go on a cruise with my wife and surprised my sister, who lives in Germany, by turning up on her doorstep.’
Sugar is one of the oldest known remedies for healing wounds. In 3500 BC the Mesopotamians dressed wounds with sugary substances such as honey or resin.
Sugar works mainly by drawing excess moisture out of infected wounds. Although some moisture is needed for new skin cells to grow, too much can trigger maceration – the softening of tissues by liquid – which provides the ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
Once sugar is sprinkled on a weeping wound, it starts to absorb excess water. There is also some evidence that it draws macrophages – immune-system cells that can attack foreign organisms – into the damaged area as well.
About 6,000 people a year in England have leg, foot or toe amputations due to diabetes complications. The annual NHS bill for treating ulcers alone is estimated at nearly £700 million. The market for wound dressings, ointments and gels is said to be worth around £5 billion.
Derek decided to try the sugar treatment after reading a brief news report in the Daily Mail last year about a small-scale trial at Wolverhampton University.
Moses Murandu, a senior lecturer in adult nursing, had set up the trial because he didn’t understand why sugar – commonly used as a cheap wound-healer in his native Zimbabwe – was not given to patients in the UK.
Derek says: ‘I mentioned the article to my GP, who said that after everything I’d been through, I had nothing to lose.
‘So I rang Moses and the very next morning he drove 90 miles to my house to see me.
‘As it happened, there were a couple of wound care nurses there to change my dressings. When Moses looked at my ulcers and said they should be completely healed in four to five weeks using just sugar, I could see them sniggering.’
Mr Murandu piped a ring of Vaseline around each lesion to keep the sugar contained, then sprinkled between half a teaspoon and two teaspoons on them. Although over-the-counter sugar is almost certainly safe, he uses white sugar treated with antiseptic, just to make certain there are no lingering micro-organisms.
Each ulcer was then topped with a patch containing iodine, dressed with a light, comfortable bandage, then left for up to a week.
‘When the final dressings were removed, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe how much my legs had improved’
When the first dressing was changed after seven days, Derek was stunned.
‘I rarely swear, but I did then. Where my large ulcers had been oozing pus and blood, there was none. It just looked a bit raw.
‘By the fourth week, word had got round and when Moses came back to remove the final bandages, there was a crowd of 15 to 20 healthcare professionals in my house to watch.
‘As the dressings came off, you could hear everybody gasp. Every ulcer had completely healed.
‘I was feeling quite emotional and asked Judith to fetch my shoes because I wanted to stand outside the front of my house for the first time in years. She reminded me that I didn’t have any shoes, because when doctors had said I’d probably never walk again, we gave them to charity.’
Mr Murandu says the results of his trial are due to be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year. But he claims the initial results suggest a diabetic ulcer cure rate in excess of 90 per cent.
He says the reason sugar is not used more in developed nations is simply that it is so cheap, there isn’t enough profit to justify investing in large-scale randomised trials. These provide the proof necessary to win endorsement from bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
But while research evidence is scant, it is still fairly convincing.
One of the largest studies, published in the Southern Medical Journal in 1981, involved 605 patients in the U.S. with wounds, burns and ulcers. The results showed that healing times were reduced by 25 per cent, they needed fewer skin grafts and antibiotics, and the cost of their long-term care was greatly reduced.
A 2007 study in the Journal Of Wound Care compared wounds treated with sugar and honey.
Doctors at the Beit Cure International Hospital in Malawi treated 18 patients with sugar dressings and 22 with honey.
Derek’s wounds have now healed
After a week, the proportion of patients showing signs of wound infection had fallen from 52 to 39 per cent among the sugar group, and from 55 to 23 per cent in those drizzled with honey.
Honey is thought to mainly promote healing through direct antibacterial action. Unlike sugar, it has emerged as more of a mainstream wound remedy in recent years, with a host of new specialist dressings incorporating medical-grade (sterilised) honey.
Honey contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes and sugars, all of which help to heal wounds. Manuka is generally regarded as the most potent because of its high antibacterial content, although it costs up to £20 a jar, as against £2 to £3 for other honeys.
Sugar is cheaper, which may be why it is not being used.
David Leaper, one of the UK’s leading experts on wound healing, says he remembers being invited to a meeting in London in the Eighties by sugar giant Tate & Lyle to discuss the company’s plans to develop sugar into a drug that would transform wound-healing.
‘They were very excited,’ says Professor Leaper. ‘But then I heard no more about it. Whether they were warned it might be unfair competition for companies developing more expensive wound-care treatments, I don’t know. What I do know is that sugar works.’
Professor Peter Vowden, consultant vascular surgeon at the Bradford Teaching Hospital, says a major obstacle is that sugar can’t be patented. When a pharmaceutical firm develops a new drug, it is usually protected by patent for at least five years in hope of recouping the millions of pounds spent on research.
Undaunted, Derek Ripley is doing all he can to spread the word. He recently wrote to the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, and has met his local MP to discuss the matter.
‘This sugar treatment has given me back my life,’ says Derek. ‘I want to do all I can to support it.’