A look at the proven benefits of kanuka honey

The powerful health benefits associated with manuka honey have made it a huge success story for New Zealand exporters. Manuka’s cousin, kanuka, is far less famous – but may be equally beneficial.

Like manuka, kanuka honey comes from a native New Zealand shrub found all over the country. The two plants belong to the same family – Myrtaceae – and look fairly similar.

Kanuka has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to help heal burns, bruises, and other wounds – in fact, it may be more effective than its better known relative. Studies have shown that it can also be an effective treatment for skin conditions including eczema, rosacea, and acne.

Unlike manuka, kanuka may also be able to stimulate an immune system response, which may make it effective in fighting off illness and infection – although research in this area is inconclusive so far.

Regardless, it’s a uniquely powerful natural substance with few – if any – side effects. That’s significant for the medical industry and individual consumers.

Powerful properties

The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of kanuka come from high levels of hydrogen peroxide in the honey. This sounds like an added chemical, but it’s actually a naturally occurring substance in honey, created by an enzyme called glucose oxidase.

Hydrogen peroxide, along with other compounds in kanuka, helps kill off bacteria, treat fungal infections, and reduce inflammation.

These properties make kanuka a valuable natural treatment for wounds, infection, and a number of skin conditions. Because it’s a natural substance, it tends to have fewer side effects compared to other treatment options such as antibiotics. It also provides a natural barrier to prevent re-infection of wounds.

Some hospitals are starting to use kanuka-based formulations to treat wounds and burns.

Reducing rosacea

Kanuka has been proven to help with a number of skin conditions including rosacea.

This condition involves a chronic red rash on the face, particularly around the cheeks and nose. It affects around 5-10% of adults and can be embarrassing to deal with.

The trial used twice-daily kanuka face masks to treat the condition. Results were significant, with 65% of participants showing improvement, 34% showing major improvement, and 13% reporting that their symptoms disappeared completely.

Traditionally, the only clinical treatment for rosacea was long-term antibiotics, which can damage the gut and lead to antibiotic resistance in the population. Kanuka, in contrast, had no reported side effects.

Acne applications

Another study has shown similar results for treatment of acne. Acne – or chronic pimples and skin inflammation – usually affects teenagers and young adults and can have a huge impact on self-esteem and confidence.

The trial showed that using a medical-grade kanuka face wash had a significant impact on redness and inflammation and helped heal acne lesions for many participants. In fact, twice as many participants had an improvement in their acne after using kanuka, compared to those in the control group.

Unlike synthetic bleach-based treatments, which tend to dry out the skin, honey is naturally moisturising as well, so it leaves the skin in better condition.

There are prescription medications designed to treat severe acne, but these can have severe, dangerous side-effects – honey-based treatments are much gentler.

Anecdotally, topical kanuka has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of eczema. This condition involves itchy, painful rashes and scabs, and is most common among babies and small children. Using kanuka cream can help heal the damage and reduce inflammation quickly.

Topical – not internal

As a topical treatment for skin conditions, kanuka has been proven to be effective. It’s also a gentle, natural way to treat burns, cuts, bruises and grazes.

Manufacturers and natural health practitioners have also made claims about kanuka’s health benefits when eaten or taken as a tonic, but there is no evidence to show that these applications are effective.

However, because it’s edible – and delicious – there is no harm in eating it, as long as you don’t expect miraculous health benefits.

The future of kanuka

Kanuka isn’t well known yet, but it will be. As more doctors, hospitals, and consumers discover its effective, gentle healing properties, there will no doubt be an increase in demand for kanuka products. Acne, eczema, and rosacea are all common conditions with few effective treatment options, so medical professionals and sufferers are always looking for new solutions.

If you’re a honey producer, it could be worth looking into kanuka before it hits the big time.