A sweet solution to gut disease
Honey has been a popular home remedy for digestive problems for centuries, but is there any science behind this?
Dr Cokcetin has received an AgriFutures Australia grant for her project ‘Increasing the value of Australian honey as a health food.’
The grant, valued at $150,000 over three years, is Dr Cokcetin’s first grant as a lead researcher.
“I felt very honoured to have received the grant,” said Dr Cokcetin.
“While it is the scientific aspect that drew me to this field of research, I’ve always wanted to help the Australian beekeeping and honey industry.
“Receiving this grant felt like I was being recognised as contributing something of value to the industry.”
The aim of the project is to investigate the capacity of Australian honey to promote or restore a healthy gut, providing the scientific evidence needed to back up the therapeutic qualities of locally produced varieties.
The inspiration for this project came from preliminary findings in Dr Cokcetin’s PhD work that was completed in 2015.
She looked at how eating honey altered the gut balance of healthy people and found that some Australian honeys have significant promise as a prebiotic.
Prebiotics are complex sugars that help promote the healthy growth of beneficial bacteria and halt the growth of detrimental bacteria in the gut.
Dr Cokcetin’s PhD research contributed to the development of a world-first prebiotic honey product registered as a therapeutic agent in Australia.
However, the honey industry has not come close to exploiting all the potential in this area, which Dr Cokcetin hopes to validate through her new project.
Through an in-vitro lab screen, she will determine whether honey has a favourable effect on bacterial imbalances that are present in various gut diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
The next step is to run a pilot human clinical study with 20 patients who suffer from a gut disease.
The project is being conducted under AgriFutures’ Honey Bee and Pollination Program.
Dr Cokcetin also credits UTS researchers and facilities for their role in the project.
“I am very lucky to have a supportive lab group who are always willing to help troubleshoot, provide advice on experimental work and in developing project ideas and pitches,” she said.
“I also receive a lot of encouragement outside of my immediate lab group – I love that so many people are excited about the honey research we do!”
Dr Cokcetin found that just 20g (a tablespoon) of honey a day can see significant improvements to the average person’s gut balance, by boosting the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
“These bacteria produce beneficial compounds like butyrate - which is a type of short chain fatty acid - that has a protective role against the development of disease in the gut, including colon cancer,” Dr Cokcetin said.
The good news is that most honeys have prebiotic effects, so you will not have to look far if you want to start improving your gut balance today.
“My research so far, and what is available in the literature, suggests that most honeys can have prebiotic effects,” Dr Cokcetin said.
“So I guess we should just be eating one that we love the taste of the most!”
Dr Cokcetin will begin a year-long laboratory study for this project in September 2018. Patients will be recruited in 2019—anyone interested in participating in the study should send their expressions of interest to Nural.Cokcetin@uts.edu.au.