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Bees make more than honey. They also make gunk called propolis. And this "bee glue" is a powerful health balm. In fact, studies show it has anti-cancer properties.
Dr. Seema Patel of the Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics Research Center, San Diego State University conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on propolis and cancer. Dr. Patel found laboratory and animal studies supporting propolis efficacy against cancers of the:
- Head and neck
- Kidney and bladder
Propolis contains as many as 300 active compounds. These components were found to fight cancer in a variety of ways including:
- Preventing the growth of new blood vessels to feed cancer cells (anti-angiogenesis)
- Preventing the spread or metastasis of cancer from one organ to another
- Halting cancer cell division
- Inducing apoptosis or programmed cell death
In addition, propolis was found to mitigate the side effects or toxicity of chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of cancer.
Bees make propolis by gathering resin from pine and other cone-producing evergreen trees. They blend the resin with wax flakes and pollen, and take it back to the hive. There they use the sticky mess to patch holes, seal cracks and build panels in the hive.
But propolis does more than architectural duty. It also acts as an antiseptic barrier protecting the hive from contamination and from external invaders like mice, snakes, and lizards. In fact, the name propolis comes from the Greek meaning "defense of the city."
The antimicrobial properties of propolis protect the hive from viruses and bacteria. Researchers found that bees living in hives coated with propolis have lower bacteria in their body and also 'quieter' immune systems.[i]
And propolis doesn't just benefit bees. For thousands of years folk medicine practitioners have used bee glue to treat abscesses, heal wounds, and fight infection. In fact, propolis was listed as an official drug in the London pharmacopoeias of the 17th century.
Modern studies confirm a long list of health benefits offered by propolis. A search of PubMed shows over 2,000 studies on bee propolis. Here are just a few of its health benefits.
1. Anti-Microbial Action
Propolis has a wide range of antibacterial properties.[ii] It is also has anti-fungal and anti-viral powers. In one animal study, applying a propolis solution to wounds helped speed healing in diabetic rats.[iii]
In children, propolis has been found to:
- Prevent respiratory tract infections
- Remedy symptoms of the common cold
- Prevent middle ear infections
2. Heals Burns
A 2002 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that propolis may promote the healing of minor burns.[iv] The researchers compared a propolis skin cream with silver sulfadiazine, a drug used to treat burns. Study results showed propolis was just as effective as the drug in treating second-degree burns.
3. Prevents Dental Cavities
Greek and Roman physicians used propolis as mouth disinfectant. Modern studies show it may be effective in the treatment of periodontitis and gingivitis.
Many studies have also found that extracts from bee glue limit bacterial plaque and reduce tooth caries.[v]
4. Treats Parasites
Preliminary trials show propolis may eliminate parasites. In one study people who took propolis had a 52 to 60% success rate in eliminating the parasite giardiasis.[ix]
5. Wart Removal
In a single-blind, randomized, 3-month trial, 135 patients with different types of warts received oral propolis, echinacea, or a placebo. The results were reported in the International Journal of Dermatology. Patients with plane and common warts achieved a cure rate of 75% and 73%, respectively. The results were significantly better than those associated with echinacea or placebo.[x]
6. Beats Drug for Genital Herpes
Propolis is more effective than a common drug for treating genital herpes according to a study published in Phytomedicine.[xi]
For 10 days, 90 men and women with genital herpes applied either an ointment containing propolis flavonoids, or acyclovir (a drug used to treat herpes sores), or a placebo ointment. The patients applied the ointment four times a day.
By the study's end, 24 out of the 30 patients in the propolis group had healed. Only 14 of 30 in the drug group, and 12 of 30 in the placebo group were cured.
Like honey, the composition and health benefits of propolis will vary depending on the trees and flowers and the location where it is produced. You can find propolis in its raw form directly from a local beekeeper. It's also in the "cappings" of honey – a crunchy mixture of pollen, propolis, and bees wax.
Propolis is also available without the honey. But extracts or tinctures of propolis are more convenient to use. They are popular for boosting the immune system, and for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial properties.
You can also find propolis formulations for colds and flu-like symptoms, wound healing, acne, cold sores, genital herpes, and dermatitis. They are available as creams, ointments, lotions, toothpastes, and mouth washes.
Oral propolis formulations can be found as pastes, lozenges, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules.
However, if you have an allergy to honey or bees, you may also have a reaction to products containing propolis.
For more information visit Green Med Info's page on bee propolis.
[ii] Grange, J. M. and Davey, R. W. "Antibacterial properties of propolis (bee glue)." J R.Soc Med 1990;83:159-160.
[iii] McLennan SV et al, "The anti-inflammatory agent Propolis improves wound healing in a rodent model of experimental diabetes." Wound Repair Regen. 2008 Sep-Oct;16(5):706-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-475X.2008.00421.x.
[iv] Gregory SR, Piccolo N, Piccolo MT, Piccolo MS, Heggers JP. "Comparison of propolis skin cream to silver sulfadiazine: a naturopathic alternative to antibiotics in treatment of minor burns." J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Feb;8(1):77-83.
[v] Włodzimierz Więckiewicz, Marta Miernik, Mieszko Więckiewicz, and Tadeusz Morawiec, "Does Propolis Help to Maintain Oral Health?" Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 351062, 8 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/351062
[vi] Scheller S, et al. "Biological properties and clinical application of propolis. 9. Investigation of the influence of ethanol extract of propolis (EEP) on dental pulp regeneration." Arzneimittelforschung 1978;28:289-91
[vii] Stojko A, Scheller S, Szwarnowiecka I, Tustanowski J, Ostach H, Obuszko Z. "Biological properties and clinical application of propolis. 8. Experimental observation on the influence of ethanol extract of propolis (EEP) on the regeneration of bone tissue." Arzneimittelforschung 1979;28:35-7
[viii] Scheller S et al. "Biological properties and clinical application of propolis. 7. investigation of the influence of ethanol extract of propolis (EEP)on cartilaginous tissue regeneration." Arzneimittelforschung 1977;27:2138-40
[ix] Miyares C, Hollands I, Castañeda C, et al. "Clinical trial with a preparation based on propolis 'propolisina' in human giardiasis." Acta Gastroenterologica Latinoamericana. 1988;18(3):195-201.
[x] Zedan H, Hofny ER. "Propolis as an alternative treatment for cutaneous warts." Int J Dermatol. 2009. Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Andrology, Faculty of Medicine, Assiut University, Assiut, Egypt.
[xi] Vynograd N, Vynograd I, Sosnowski Z. "A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes (HSV)." Phytomedicine. 2000 Mar;7(1):1-6.