10 May 2012

Kanuka honey research divides scientists

9:09 pm on 10 May 2012

Scientists are at odds over new research which suggests kanuka honey has double the bacteria-killing properties of manuka.

Victoria University medical researcher Shaun Holt says he has found large amounts of the anti-microbial agent methylglyoxal - known as the manuka factor - in honey from the closely related kanuka tree variety.

He has set up a pharmaceutical company to produce kanuka-infused medicines to help people who have skin conditions such as eczema.

Professor Holt says he was surprised by the finding but sees great potential for kanuka in the medical sector.

Other scientists have raised questions about the research behind those findings.

Crown research institute Industrial Research Limited (IRL) carried out the testing on commission from Professor Holt.

IRL group manager of carbohydrate chemistry Richard Furneaux says the institute stands by its testing methods, but wants to distance itself from his claim.

Dr Furneaux said the sample provided did contain methylglyoxal but he is not sure the data proves the anti-microbial agent is in kanuka honey. He said IRL was not responsible for the provenance of the sample.

The Waikato University scientist who developed the test that measures methylglyoxal levels in manuka honey is sceptical about the kanuka findings.

"It's very easy to mistake kanuka and manuka honey, because the trees grow in the same places, they flower at the same time and the pollen is indistinguishable between the two different types of tree," Peter Molan said.

The world's largest producer of manuka health products, New Zealand-based Comvita, says it has done extensive testing on kanuka and has found no evidence of the manuka factor. Chief technical officer Ralf Schlothauer says he's sure no other honey but manuka has that quality.

Professor Shaun Holt, who's set up a pharmaceutical company to produce kanuka honey-infused medicines for skin conditions, stands by his findings and is certain his sample was of kanuka honey.

He says further testing shows kanuka also has different, and higher, antibacterial properties than other honeys.