Did you know that honey isn’t the only thing that bees make? Bees also produce a compound called propolis from the sap on needle-leaved trees or evergreens. When they combine the sap with their own discharges and beeswax, they create a sticky, greenish-brown product that is used as a coating to build their hives. This is propolis.
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.
Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations used propolis for its medicinal properties. Greeks used it to treat abscesses. Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process. Egyptians used it embalm mummies.
The composition of propolis can vary depending on the location of the bees and what trees and flowers they have access to. For example, propolis from Europe won’t have the same chemical makeup as propolis from Brazil. This can make it difficult for researchers to come to general conclusions about its health benefits.
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
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.
Propolis has a wide range of antibacterial properties. 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.
In children, propolis has been found to:
- Prevent respiratory tract infections
- Remedy symptoms of the common cold
- Prevent middle ear infections
A 2002 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that propolis may promote the healing of minor burns. 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.
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.
Other studies show that propolis may even help regenerate dental pulp, as well as bone tissue, and cartilage.
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.
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
Beats Drug for Genital Herpes
Propolis is more effective than a common drug for treating genital herpes according to a study published in Phytomedicine.
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.