Medical researcher Professor Shaun Holt has announced what is believed to be the world’s largest programme of research on the medical uses of New Zealand honey.

Speaking at a meeting in the Beehive yesterday, Professor Holt said that honey had huge potential to treat many medical conditions, but clinical trials were needed to prove that it worked. “We know that honey can heal wounds and kill just about any bug, so in theory it could be used to treat diseases ranging from eczema to skin infections to lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis”.

The research programme that was announced will be undertaken by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, based in Wellington Hospital. Nine studies have been commissioned and many more are planned.

For the research programme, HoneyLab medical-grade kanuka will be used, and the first products have been launched this week and are available from pharmacies. “It is important that people only apply medical-grade honey to their skin”, said Professor Holt. “Ordinary honey contains lots of impurities and sometimes toxins, which can cause nasty skin reactions”.

At the Beehive meeting, initial results were presented showing that medical-grade kanuka honey could be a useful treatment for acne and molluscum contagiosum. In the acne study, 82% reported an improvement within a week and 77% had a reduction in the number of acne lesions. Professor Holt said that he was not surprised by these results given that honey kills bacteria. He said that compared to popular acne treatments that contained bleach, honey was natural, safer, healed the small wounds caused by acne spots, was likely to reduce scarring and moisturized the skin. “The leading acne treatment sells around US$2 billion a year – we think that honey is a far superior treatment and plan to demonstrate this in a large independent clinical trial”. The honey is applied as a facemask for 20-30 minutes twice a day, and washes off easily with warm water.