The collaborative research was the work of New Zealand-based Comvita, Industrial Research, Plant & Food Research (IRL) and Massey University.
It found that certain New Zealand honey varieties appear to trigger different immune responses.
“We know a lot about the anti-microbial properties of Manuka honey but had much less scientific information about the immune system-related effects of honey in wound healing,” Dr Ralf Schlothauer, Chief Technology Officer at Comvita said.
This research provides further insight to why honey stimulates the healing of wounds, Schlothauer said.
Findings suggest there could be a number of honeys to consider if you want to stimulate the immune system, he added.
“Ultimately, it might mean we produce medical honey products that are specifically tailored for certain treatments or that we select a range of honeys for their particular properties to include in a specific blend,” he said.
“The work is helping us ensure there is much better information about natural medicines. We need to be able to talk about the immune relevance of honey and have proof of its scientific efficacy to ensure natural medicines can sit alongside conventional health products,” he added.
A lack of previous analysis
Priorthis research, published findings had shown there were large carbohydrate molecules in honey that stimulated immune cells but their structure had not been analysed, Schlothauer said.
“We started separating the molecule but were puzzled about what it was. Initially we thought it was a glycan and sought appropriate analysis but they put suggested we go to the Carbohydrate Chemistry group at IRL,” he said.
IRL is one of only three laboratories worldwide with the capability and expertise required to carry out complex research into the extraction, purification and analysis of oligo and polysaccharides, and glycoconjugates.
The group commenced small-scale analysis on Manuka, Kanuka and Clover honeys and after initial, detailed analysis of the sugars, the exact nature of the molecule was identified.
Comvita is still determining the commercial value of this discovery and has a range of new products under development and continued research on how honey is scientifically linked to healing properties remains underway.