During the study, the researchers at the University of Auckland also found that treating a leg ulcer with dressings impregnated with honey resulted in a significantly increased number of reported adverse events.
Venous leg ulcers are usually treated by applying a compression bandage but the current interest in alternative medicines has led to renewed interest in honey as a potential healing agent, and some people have suggested using honey dressings as well as a compression bandage.
The researchers conducted a trial in four centres around New Zealand (Auckland, South Auckland, Waikato and Christchurch), where 368 patients were randomly divided into two groups.
One group was treated with conventional dressings while the other group was given dressings impregnated with honey. Both groups had compression bandaging.
After 12 weeks, the researchers found that there was no significant difference between the rates of healing in the two groups.
However, the honey treatment turned out to be more expensive, and people in that group reported significantly more adverse events than in the conventional group.
"In our trial the honey dressing did not significantly improve healing, time to healing, change in ulcer area, incidence of infection or quality of life," says lead author Dr Andrew Jull who works in the Clinical Trials Research Unit at the University of Auckland.
"The current focus of venous ulcer management should remain on compression and other treatments that have demonstrated that they improve compression's ability to work or prevent ulcer recurrence," he added.
The new study is published today in the British Journal of Surgery.