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UTSA professor Ferhat Ozturk holds a honeycomb. Ozturk and his students are gaining a better understanding of honey as an antibiotic and healing agent.

Honey’s Healing Power

UTSA’s Ferhat Ozturk explores the medicinal potential of the sweet substance

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about a spoonful of honey? Ferhat Ozturk, assistant professor in the UTSA College of Sciences’ Department of Integrative Biology, is exploring the medicinal potential of the sweet substance and what its health benefits can do for the body. 

Ozturk and his students are testing varieties of honey in various bacterial cultures to identify which are best at killing and/or inhibiting the growth of these bacteria. He is teaching one of the CURE classes of the SBRI program. 

“Honey has been used as an antibacterial solution for thousands of years. The Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Turks, for example, used honey for wound healing. It’s been shown to kill bacteria — almost any bacteria,” Ozturk says. “Our main objective is to find which honey can be used best for which disease and at the same time which honey has the most healing potential.”

But before battling bacteria, Ozturk’s undergraduate students sharpened their skills with a micropipette, a tool used to transfer a measured volume of liquid. To prepare for their work studying the reaction of bacterial cultures to honey, the students first practiced their precision and accuracy with the tool by transferring food coloring dye.

“It’s a learning process,” Ozturk told one student as they measured microliters of colored dye.

With its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-aging properties, honey is effective as a treatment for many ailments and conditions. Honey can soothe inflammation resulting from intestinal and gum diseases. It protects cells from free radicals that cause illnesses and helps replenish them to a healthier state. With no side effects, Ozturk points out that honey can also serve as an aid to treating mouth sores suffered by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Ozturk, who regularly visits beekeepers and attends bee conventions, is collecting honey samples from San Antonio and other regions of Texas. He’s searching for the leading medical-grade honey that can help heal infected wounds and prevail against antimicrobial resistance — when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.

“Not every honey has the same potential for every bacterium,” Ozturk explains. “Buckwheat, for example, has one of the highest potentials of healing properties, but there’s still medicinal activity in the lighter-colored honeys.”

Having moved on from colored dyes, Ozturk’s students are becoming acquainted with bacteria. Carefully transferring a bacteria liquid culture into an agar plate, Nhi Ho, a sophomore studying microbiology, says she chose Ozturk’s course for its interesting topic and because it provided her with a hands-on research opportunity as an undergraduate student.

Ho and the rest of the class spread the liquid culture on the small plate. Once growth occurs — results should be visible two days later — the students will introduce honey.

“Honey is healing for mankind,” Ozturk says. “It changed my approach to medicine. I made the link, and the more I learn how honey has been used as medicine, the more fascinated I become.”

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