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Propolis has been used for thousands of years by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for its multiple medicinal properties and remarkable safety profile, while science only recently started to rediscover its powerful healing potential. Propolis is collected by honeybees from buds and exudates of conifer trees and plants and is known to contain a variety of chemical compounds with significant antioxidant potential, such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. The composition of propolis in the various compounds depends on the geographic area and therefore the different types of plants from which it is collected from. One of the well-studied compounds of propolis is caffeic acid phenethyl ester, abbreviated as CAPE.
CAPE has great medicinal properties, but its anti-cancer capacity is of particular interest. A study from the "Journal of Radiation Research" shows that just within 2 days after treatment with CAPE, 46% of lung cancer cells had been destroyed and the cancer growth was reduced by 60%. Three days after the treatment 67% of cancer cells were dead. A similar study published in the journal "Anticancer Drugs" in 2006 found that CAPE prevents colon cancer cells from multiplying and induces programmed cell death of the malignant cells without affecting healthy cells. These impressive results have been replicated in more types of cancer cells, such as breast, gastric, skin and pancreas cancer and glioma cells, a type of inoperable brain cancer. The available data show that CAPE can selectively stop the cell cycle and destroy cancer cells, prevent angiogenesis and block cancer growth. Luckily, it is not just CAPE having this impressive ability. The same anti-cancer properties are even more pronounced and superior in propolis as a whole food.
Perhaps the most exciting discovery about the healing effect of propolis and CAPE comes from a recent study published in the journal "Cancer Science and Therapy" in 2014, which shows that treatment with propolis can actually change the expression of DNA. Propolis and CAPE have a dramatic effect on specialized enzymes (called histone deacetylases), which are responsible for regulating the expression of DNA, preventing epigenetic modifications.
Epigenetic changes refer to alterations of the DNA expression without changing its sequence, and therefore in the absence of mutations. Modifying enzymes (histone deacetylases) can switch off entire DNA regions and block expression of the genes there. This has been shown to be a powerful way to interrupt normal cellular metabolism and lead to uncontrolled replication, which is certainly involved in cancer growth and metastasis. To prevent these problems, all cells have in their DNA specialized genes, called tumour suppressor genes, which are expected to be activated if a cell becomes cancerous and either promote healing or induce programmed cell death, if the genetic damages are beyond repair. Conveniently, these protective genes are usually deactivated in cancer cells, allowing them to bypass the security mechanisms built in the DNA. This is exactly where propolis acts; by restoring the functions of DNA, it re-activates the ability of the cell to fight off the malignancy and regulate its replication, therefore blocking tumour growth. According to the authors, this study proves that
"CAPE and propolis are naturally occurring epigenetic therapeutic agents."
The scientific and commercial implications of these findings are so important that an international patent application on this finding was published in January, 2013 by the group, Omene C, O'Connor OA and Frenkel K.
This mode of action has been successfully mimicked by pharmaceutical drugs for unresponsive cancers. Histone deacetylase inhibitors are a class of drugs designated as epigenetic agents that modulate the activities of tumour suppressor genes, among others. These drugs were originally used for mood disorders, epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases. However, since 2006 they have been approved (Vorinostat and Istodax) for specific lymphomas which are unresponsive to other treatments. A study published in the journal "Experimental Hematology" in 2005 reports that these drugs can
"profoundly decrease proliferation of human lymphoid cancer cell lines."
Just like propolis naturally does with many other types of cancer cells...
Omene C, Kalac M, Wu J, Marchi E, Frenkel K, O'Connor OA. 2014. Propolis and its Active Component, Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE), Modulate Breast Cancer Therapeutic Targets via an Epigenetically Mediated Mechanism of Action. J Cancer Sci Ther. 5(10):334-342.
Xiang D, Wang D, He Y, Xie J, Zhong Z, Li Z, Xie J. 2006. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester induces growth arrest and apoptosis of colon cancer cells via the beta-catenin/T-cell factor signaling. Anticancer Drugs. 17(7):753-62.
Chen MF, Wu CT, Chen YJ, Keng PC, Chen WC.2004. Cell killing and radiosensitization by caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) in lung cancer cells. J Radiat Res. 45(2):253-60.
Omene CO, Wu J, Frenkel K. 2012. Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE) derived from propolis, a honeybee product, inhibits growth of breast cancer stem cells. Invest New Drugs. 30(4):1279-88.
Sakajiri S, Kumagai T, Kawamata N, Saitoh T, Said JW, Koeffler HP. 2005. Histone deacetylase inhibitors profoundly decrease proliferation of human lymphoid cancer cell lines. Exp Hematol. 33(1):53-61.