Can Traditional Herbal Medicine Help Heal Chronic Diabetic Foot Ulcers?

Alexander M. Reyzelman, DPM, and Irina Bazarov, MS

Despite the multitude of wound healing products and technologies that have come out in recent years, the treatment of chronic diabetic ulcers still remains a challenge. An evolving scientific understanding of wound physiology has led to the introduction of new wound care products targeting specific wound healing abnormalities.

   Unfortunately, the complexity of imbalances responsible for delayed wound healing makes it extremely difficult to develop a single best wound care product. More often than not, podiatrists have to resort to the use of an assortment of skin substitutes, topical and oral antibiotics, and various expensive dressings. Not only are the results of this treatment strategy often less than optimal, the use of multiple treatment modalities also contributes to the staggering cost of diabetic wound care.1

   In the last few decades, the increasing popularity of herbal therapy has led wound care specialists to turn to common botanicals in the hope of finding a more effective and less costly product for healing of chronic wounds.2

   Herbal medicine has been in use successfully to treat various dermatological conditions for thousands of years. Honey and aloe vera extracts are some of the most popular natural products currently used in topical wound care in the United States. The wound healing properties of honey are attributed to the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities of catalase and flavonoids, and are well established in current medical practice.3,4 Aloe vera possesses potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties due to its inhibitory action on thromboxane A2 and B2, prostaglandin 2a and bradykinin. Research has shown aloe vera to promote healing of radiation-damaged skin and pressure ulcers.5,6

Examining The Increasing Prevalence Of Herbal Therapy

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine has been gaining increasing interest around the world. While conventional Western medicine is based on the principle of finding the most specific agent to target a single biomolecule or biochemical signal transduction pathway, traditional Chinese herbal medicine uses a combination of multiple herbs, each of which possesses distinctive properties but acts synergistically to influence many targets throughout the body.7

   While herbal medicine has been in practice for nearly 4,000 years in China and its uses have been extensively documented in Chinese clinical literature, it was largely unfamiliar to Western clinicians until the 1980s. Western physicians initially demonstrated the efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on children with atopic dermatitis in England.8 The study lasted for five months and included 47 children, who took an oral preparation of either a specially selected combination of 10 Chinese medicinal herbs or a mixture of similarly tasting but randomly combined herbs. The study authors noted that patients treated with herbal medicine showed significantly higher improvement in erythema and surface lesions in comparison to the patients treated with placebo.

   Following the success of the aforementioned study, researchers and clinicians have assessed traditional Chinese herbal medicine for a variety of conditions in the U.S. and Europe, and there is now a high volume of English-language scientific literature.

Add new comment