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Home remedy put to the test

Home remedies are rarely put to the test of scientific scrutiny. That's probably why physicians frequently pooh-pooh them.

It's hardly surprising that doctors prefer randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. This type of experiment helps rule out expectations, bias and plain old luck.

But sometimes common sense, observation and experience can reveal something worthwhile. Take ground black pepper, for example. If you pour pepper on a cut, it either stops bleeding or it doesn't. Such an experiment hardly requires a placebo-controlled trial.

One reader reported his own experience: "This morning I cut my bottom lip shaving, and it would not stop bleeding. I used a styptic pencil several times, with no success. No way could I stop it. About half an hour later, the wife read about black pepper in the morning paper. She dampened a paper napkin, loaded it with black pepper, and I put it on the cut. Five minutes later, I gently removed it. Voila, no more bleeding. I went on to eat breakfast, had my coffee and no further problem the rest of the day."

Some home remedies disappear without a trace because they just don't work. Others stand the test of time. Occasionally, medicine rediscovers what the ancients knew.

Orthopedic surgeon Richard A. Knutson, M.D., was struggling in the early 1970s to help patients with wounds that would not heal. An elderly nurse suggested an old-fashioned home remedy involving sugar. Knutson found that the Egyptians had used honey and animal fat for battle wounds 4,000 years ago.

He started experimenting with a mixture of sugar and the antiseptic Betadine ointment. Dr. Knutson published his results in the Southern Medical Journal (November 1981). Since then, he has treated more than 7,000 people with a range of wounds, from gunshot to pressure ulcers to burns and other problems.

One reader found this remedy on our website and had occasion to try it herself: "I have lost three fingertips, ripped off by a rope a week ago. I live in Bulgaria. Though the hospital was fantastic when I first did it, they do not have nonstick dressings. The dressing changes have been excruciating, so I'm looking for Betadine. If I can't find it, I'll try just plain sugar."

Two days later, she reported: "I am amazed that just two days of iodine paste and sugar has my fingers pink with the tissue growing back. My fingers are beginning to look like fingers again. Plus I've had almost no pain. After a week of hell and torture at the local hospital, that would have been enough initially. I am over the moon! It looks like I might have fingers for Christmas after all."

Her latest update included these details: "At day 9, almost all the tissue has grown back, the edge of the torn skin has tightened, and new skin is growing. Sugar prevents any kind of dressing from sticking. The odd time they have stuck, it has been to the sugar and not the new tissue, so a nice soak in warm salt water (boiled and cooled) dissolves the sugar, and the dressings fall away."

We're thrilled this home remedy worked so well. More testimonials can be found at