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Can Kanuka Honey Treat Cold Sores?

Last month the NHS website published a news story detailing how a certain type of honey was as effective a cold sore treatment as the antiviral drug acyclovir.

It examined the results of a randomised study of 1,000 adults and reported that “there was no significant difference” in the time taken for a cold sore to heal when treated with either kanuka honey or acyclovir. Cold sores treated with acyclovir took eight days to heal, while those treated with kanuka honey took nine; the trial did not include a non-treated control group.

Kanuka honey

Like its near-namesake manuka honey, kanuka honey comes from New Zealand and is derived from a shrub-like tree species. For some purposes, kanuka honey is even more potent than manuka honey. It has been shown to be useful in treating eczema, acne and other conditions and has promise as an immunostimulant.

About the study

This study was carried out by a team from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, and the University of Otago and was published in the British Medical Journal Open.

However, the trial was limited by the fact that both participants and researchers knew whether honey or acyclovir was being used – this meant that there was potential for bias. Furthermore, as the trial did not include a no-treatment group, the results offer no way of knowing whether the honey was effective at all; there may have been no difference in the results had the group using honey applied nothing whatsoever, which means the trial could well be showing how acyclovir compares to no treatment at all.

How does propolis compare?

Studies show that most cold sore treatments heal cold sores up to one day faster than a placebo or no treatment at all.

In contrast, the most recent study published on Herstat cold sore treatment found that the propolis-based treatment healed cold sores around 3.5 days faster than a placebo.

On average those using Herstat were symptom-free by day six of the study.

The study involved sixty-eight participants, with thirty-five given a placebo and thirty-three given Herstat; of this latter group, 81.8% rated their treatment as "very effective”, 94% said they would use Herstat again.