Kanuka - the new superhoney for your face

Chris McBride says 20 minutes twice a day is all it takes for kanuka honey to work its magic on his rosacea.
Rory O'Sullivan

Chris McBride says 20 minutes twice a day is all it takes for kanuka honey to work its magic on his rosacea.

Kanuka honey is vying with its more famous cousin manuka to be a new medical miracle.

It could also be a major new earner for the Kiwi economy.

A Wellington based pharmaceutical research company has just produced a product based on Kanuka honey which it claims provides a natural cure for rosacea, a chronic red facial rash that most often affects those over 30 with fair skin.

Experts estimate rosacea affects up to 10 per cent of New Zealanders - and is a medical condition afflicting people around the world. 

The company, HoneyLab, has filed for patents and is already looking at new ills that Kanuka can cure.

HoneyLab has been in talks with pharmaceutical companies overseas and estimates the current size of the potential kanuka market to be around $3 billion.

University of Otago associate professor and bee expert Peter Dearden said manuka honey had been blazing the way for some time and to hear that useful compounds had been found in kanuka honey as well, was good news. "This is a really interesting area of research. We've got lots and lots of plants in New Zealand that could be useful."

He said kanuka honey could be a success story just like manuka but would have different uses as it contained different compounds.

SCIENCE BEHIND THE HONEY

Auckland man Chris McBride is one of those already trialling the kanuka honey cure. He smears a gooey honey formulation on as a face mask for 20 minutes twice a day when his rosacea flares. 

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He says that is normally all it takes to clear up the rosacea.

McBride said it was a relief to find something that worked and was also natural after years of applying a chemical cream to his face when he had rosacea outbreaks.

"I was never embarrassed by it but it was more of an annoyance and uncomfortable. When part of your face feels hot and itchy that makes you feel uncomfortable."

His new treatment, being marketed as Honevo, is 90 per cent kanuka honey

For those who may be sceptical, Honeylab science director Shaun Holt, who also lectures at Wellington's Victoria University, said there was science behind the honey - rosacea is caused by mites and associated bacteria living deep in the skin and rosacea symptoms are an inflammatory reaction to these.

Medical kanuka honey is effective at killing micro-organisms and reducing inflammation and Holt said that was the reason it worked so well in these cases.

Kanuku also apparently contains very different compounds to Manuka honey.

Though the two shrubs look similar and are often confused, both colloquially termed 'tea trees,' they are different species.

RIGOROUS CLINICAL TRIALS

HoneyLab has conducted clinical trials which it says shows its medical-grade kanuka honey formulation can be a safe treatment for rosacea. The clinical trials were undertaken by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand and were partly funded by a grant from Callaghan Innovation.

Test results were recently presented to peers at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting in San Francisco by Holt.

Trials showed that the combination of 90 per cent medical-grade kanuka honey and 10 per cent glycerine was an effective treatment for rosacea with about one in three people reporting a clinically significant improvement after eight weeks of Honevo treatment. This was twice the outcome from those who underwent a control treatment.

In 13 per cent of those involved in the trial, the disease disappeared completely.

Holt said people with rosacea often sought natural treatments but very few of these treatments had successfully undergone rigorous clinical trials. He said this honey formulation was the best of both worlds.

Patents are pending on the formulation, which contains glycerine to make it less sticky and more temperature stable than regular honey.

HoneyLab is now looking into the benefits of kanuka honey for treating cold sores.

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 - Stuff

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