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Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of Science, or who has watched the Bee Movie, knows that bees are wonderful for the environment. When they collect nectar from plants for their hives, bees also spread pollen from plant to plant. This enables the plants to reproduce. In fact, 85% of food crops that we eat are able to grow and produce because they have been pollinated by bees. Bees also produce honey. They are the only insect that produce anything that we can eat. Honey is highly nutritious, full of minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and zinc as well as anti-oxidants and vitamins – B1, B3 and B6. But the sweet and healthy substance is not the only thing that bees produce that are beneficial to our health. Bees also produce propolis.
Propolis is a resin-like compound made from natural sap that bees collect from tree buds and sap that flows from needle-leaved trees or evergreens. The bees then blend the sap with their own enzymes and bee wax to create the sticky substance that is propolis.
Bees use propolis to construct and seal the cells of their hives as well as repair any minute gaps in the honeycomb. Propolis is used to line the inside of the nest cavities as well. It hardens the cell wall, too, lending to the structural stability of the hive and contributing to the thermal insulation of the hives, keeping their internal temperature at 35°C.
Since bees coat the hives with propolis, it narrows the entrance to the hive as well, making it harder to breach. In this way, propolis protects the hive from predators. Propolis functions as a sealant, too, protecting the hive from the elements.
Propolis is also what protects the hives from viruses and bacteria. This is because it is rich in flavonoids that has anti-oxidant properties that can fight against toxins. In addition, bees use propolis to cleanse their hives from decay. When small animals or insects happen to enter the hives and die in it, the bees encase the dead body in propolis. The mummification not only makes the carcass odourless, it also makes it less likely to pollute the hive.
The chemical composition and nature of propolis can vary depending on environmental conditions under which the bees live and the types of trees they have access to flourish. So, hive to hive, district to district and season to season, the propolis can vary. In general, though, propolis is made up of 50% resin, 30% wax, 10% essential oils, 5% pollen and 5% various organic compounds.
Pleasant smelling, the colour of propolis also varies depending on the plant the sap comes from, ranging from yellow green to red and even dark brown. White and transparent propolis have been reported as well.
Propolis is soft and sticky at 20°C to 45°C, and becomes liquid at hotter temperatures of 60°C to 70°C. When cooled, propolis becomes hard and brittle, and will remain that way even when warmed again.
Often known as “bee glue”, the word “propolis” comes from the Greek word “pro” meaning defense and “polis” meaning city or community. Propolis is also known by other names:
Researchers have found more than 300 compounds in propolis. The majority of the compounds are forms of polyphenols which are antioxidants that can fight disease and repair damage in the body.
One particular type of polyphenol propolis contains is called flavonoids which are produced in plants to protect them. Flavonoids have plenty of anti-oxidant properties.
Propolis has a long history of medical uses. The Incas used propolis as an antipyretic agent to reduce fevers. The Greeks used propolis to treat abscesses and as a mouth disinfectant. The Assyrians put it on wounds and tumours to fight infection and hasten the healing process. The Egyptians embalmed their dead with propolis.
By the 17th century, propolis was used as an official drug in drug-making London. In Europe from the 17th to 20th century, it became popular for its anti-bacterial properties.
By World War II, Soviet clinics were using propolis to treat tuberculosis because it was observed that it could reduce lung problems and increase appetites. In the Balkan states, propolis was used to treat wounds, burns, sore throats and stomach ulcers. These days, propolis is used to treat various illnesses, as a supplement, a topical remedy such as in ointments and creams as well as in ingredient in cosmetics and oral care items like nasal sprays, throat sprays, mouthwash and toothpaste.
Propolis promotes healing of wounds and has been used to treat minor burns. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers compared the results of the use of propolis-based skin cream on second- and third- degree burns with the results from the use of silver sulfadiazine skin creams. While both creams were as effective in healing the burns, the study showed that the cream with propolis had greater anti-inflammatory benefits.
Inflammation is the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli like pathogens, damaged cells, irritants and free radicals. To have anti-inflammatory properties mean that propolis can inhibit the reaction of the body to harmful stimuli, often exhibited in reddening, swelling and pain in the affected area. It is this anti-inflammatory property that makes propolis more effective at fighting infections.
In addition, propolis has antimicrobial properties. Antimicrobials destroy or slow the spread of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, protozoans and fungi.
Propolis contains a special compound called pinocembrin as well. Pinocembrin is a flavonoid that has antifungal properties. Other compounds in propolis – phenolic compounds, terpenes, and enzymes – also make it a good anti-fungal substance. Together – the antimicrobial property and the antifungal property – they enhance the ability of propolis to heal wounds.
Flavonoid properties in propolis reduce the activity of free radicals in the wound bed, quickening the repair process.
The ability of propolis to accelerate the growth of healthy cell growth speeds up its ability to heal traumatic burns, too. That ability is improved by its ability to promote collagen metabolism by increasing the amount of both type I and type II collagens in tissues.
Propolis has immune and antimicrobial actions that make it effective for treating colds and influenza. Propolis is able to increase the number of immune cells, boosts immune cell activities, increase antibody production and activate macrophages by increasing its numbers, responsiveness and ability to destroy bacteria. All these mean that propolis can bolster your body’s natural defences against infections, including against colds and influenza.
With these properties, propolis is able to improve the body’s ability to fight infections as well should you fall ill, ensuring a shorter time of illness and milder symptoms.
Add to this propolis’ anti-bacterial properties, and its ability to protect the body against infections improves. As early as the 1940s, researchers have found that propolis has anti-bacterial actions, even against a number of drug resistant ones. In fact, not only does propolis launch direct attacks on bacteria, several studies show that it can prevent or, at least, reduce our ability to tolerate build-up to antibiotics.
Propolis has anti-viral properties. It attacks the virus while decreasing the chances of the viruses developing resistance. It also prevents viruses from entering and taking over our cells, an action they need in order to replicate and thrive in our bodies.
Propolis has been found to be able to relieve fevers, headaches, body aches, coughs and sneezing. In a Russian study of 260 patients, propolis was effective in reducing sore throats and cough in 90% of the people. In an Israeli study of 400 children, propolis was used with echinacea and Vitamin C to shorten the duration of illness and reduce the severity of symptoms.
Propolis has been known to reduce the number as well as severity of night-time asthma attacks and improve pulmonary function. Propolis can be effective in relieving symptoms of allergic rhinitis, too, by inhibiting the release of histamine. Research also confirms that propolis, in the form of nasal spray, can bring relief to those with sinus infections.
Propolis can be used to treat sores. Ointments with as little as 3% propolis are used to accelerate healing as well as reduce symptoms in cold sores and sores from genital herpes.
In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010, scientist found that extracts of propolis, with its virus-fighting properties, can help fight herpes simplex virus type 1, the virus that causes cold sores. In another study, researchers found that propolis cream helped heal cold sores faster than no treatment at all as well as reduced the amount of herpes virus in the body and protected the body against future cold sore outbreaks.
In a study published in Phytomedicine, 90 men and women with genital herpes used an ointment with flavonoids sourced from propolis, an ointment containing acyclovir which is used to reduce pain and speed up the healing process of herpes-related sores, or a placebo. At the end of 10 days, 24 out of the 30 participants who used the propolis ointment healed compared to just 14 out of 30 in the acyclovir group and 12 out of 30 in the placebo group. Propolis, it was concluded, was more effective in treating genital herpes sores.
Propolis was found to be effective in treating vaginal infections as well. In addition to providing antibiotic and antimycotic actions, propolis provides relief from early symptoms due to its anaesthetic properties.
Inflammation and sores in the mouth can be relieved by propolis, too. Many research show that rinsing your mouth with a propolis mouth rinse helps heal sores caused by cancer drugs or dentures.
Linked to its ability to heal wounds, propolis is effective in treating dermatological problems as well such as acne. Its anti-allergy, anti-inflammation and antimicrobial properties as well as its ability to promote collagen syntheses are why it is often included in skin care products. This is supported by a clinical study of acne patients using ethanolic extract propolis which showed that propolis was effective in treating their condition.
Research indicates that propolis can help treat gastrointestinal disorders including ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal cancers, and ulcers. The caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), artepillin C, kaempferol, and galangin in propolis are what make it effective in eliminating pathogens including H. pylori. The research, at the moment, has been only on animal studies and cell cultures.
Propolis is beneficial to the gut in other ways. In one study, it was shown to inhibit the growth and adherence of trophozoites, the growing stage of parasites that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloating, and nausea. Propolis also promoted the detachment of these parasitic organisms.
In a clinical study, children and adults with giardiasis-given propolis showed a cure rate between 52% and 60% compared to those using conventional drugs who showed only a 40% cure rate.
Another experimental study showed that propolis has anti-histaminergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-acid, and anti-H. pylori activities that can be used to treat gastric ulceration.
Our mouths are playgrounds for bacterial microflora and bacterial growth. This can lead to several conditions including oral diseases. Because of its anti-bacterial properties, studies have shown that propolis may restrict the development of bacterial plaque and periodontitis causing pathogens.
In addition, propolis can prevent tooth decay and can be used to treat gingivitis and stomatitis. A 3% ethanolic extract of propolis toothpaste gel was shown to be more effective against gingivitis caused by dental plague in a group of patients That is why it is used in mouthwashes and toothpastes. Propolis solutions can also be used to disinfect toothbrushes.
Propolis extracts can combat bad breath as well because it can cure halitosis, a condition that causes bad breath.
Mast cells are associated with inflammation and their presence slows wound healing. One study found that a topical propolis alcoholic extract was more effective than steroid creams in reducing mast cells in oral surgery wounds.
There are suggestions that propolis has a role in treating certain cancers. Due to its anti-tumour properties, there are indications in a study that propolis can potentially treat breast cancer by inducing apoptosis on human breast cancer cells. Apoptosis is the process by which the cell’s contents are put into small packets of membrane to be disposed off by immune cells. Another study found that Chinese propolis can be used as a complementary therapy for treating breast cancer.
In yet another study, galangin, a common flavonoid in propolis, was able to induce apoptosis and inhibit melanoma cells in-vitro as well. Meanwhile, Turkish propolis has been shown to exert a selective cytotoxic action on human lung cancer cells by inducing endoplasmic reticulum stress, apoptosis, and caspase activity, and by reducing the mitochondrial membrane potential. This means propolis may be able to minimise the multiplication of cancer cells.
In a 2005 study published in Pharmacological Research, propolis was able to lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol in rats with diabetes.
In a study that involved 62 type II diabetes patients, taking 1,500mg of propolis daily for eight weeks was found to be effective in lowering fructosamine levels, which indicates blood sugar levels over two to three weeks, and oxidised LDL cholesterol levels.
Other research show that taking propolis may improve blood sugar control by a small amount in people with diabetes. Propolis has no effect on insulin levels or improvement of insulin resistance though.
For example, in a 2017 study, 66 patients with type II diabetes were divided into two groups. One was given 900mg of propolis a day while the other was given a placebo. This took place over 12 weeks. Fasting blood glucose of those who took the propolis dropped while those in the group taking the placebo increased. Cholesterol levels also fell in the propolis group and increased in the placebo group. A longer-term trial period is needed but, thus far, the results are promising.
People with type II diabetes may be able to use propolis to control their glycemic levels. When glycemic levels go too high, people with type II diabetes can suffer from headaches, excessive thirst, concentration problems, fatigue and weight loss. Over time, there can be painful nerve damage, organ damage, and cuts and sores that are slow to heal and prone to infection.
Across six studies that involved nearly 400 participants, people who took propolis had significantly reduced fasting plasma glucose and hemoglobin A1C. These two markers are used to assess blood sugar levels.
Propolis can be applied as an ointment, a cream or a lotion, and it can come in spray-form, too. Oral propolis can come in drops, tablets, capsules, powder form and extracts.
Here are some products with propolis.
You can buy raw propolis. Collected from buds, branches and leaves of chestnut trees, willows, aspen, poplar birch and herbaceous plant crops, propolis is a natural antiseptic that can be used to heal wounds, burns, and frostbite as well as skin lesions.
A natural antibiotic and anti-oxidant, it can be used to relieve stress, fight depressive disorders and normalise the central nervous system.
Where to buy: Etsy
This powder-form propolis can be eaten as a health supplement or for its medicinal properties. It can also be applied to the skin or gums.
It has antiseptic, anti-inflammation and anti-tumour properties as well as immune-enhancing capabilities and tissue regeneration abilities. It can lower blood lipids as well and protect the body against infections.
Where to buy: Lazada.sg
Each capsule is equivalent to 1,000mg of propolis and contains no GMOs, gluten or soy making it excellent for vegans and vegetarians.
Where to buy: iHerb
These soft gels promote the body’s recovery rate. Each of the 60 capsules contains 1,000mg of propolis. Made in Japan, they are vegetarian and contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties as well as high levels of flavonoids and Artepilin-C.
Where to buy: Honey World
This unique formula contains 100% pure, premium Brazilian brown bee propolis. It contains flavonoids to support the immune system, promotes a healthy inflammation response and mucous membrane cell health.
A natural source of active compound CAPE (caffeic acid phenethyl ester) with the exclusive and standardized FLAV-B (bee propolis flavonoids extract) plus PWE-BD (Organic Aromatic Acids extract), these natural, gluten-free propolis products do not contain ethanol, propylene glycol, or harsh chemicals
Where to buy: amazon.sg
This product of New Zealand comes in capsule form to make it easy to consume. Rich in anti-bacterial properties, it is good for boosting the body’s immune system and speeding up healthy cell growth. It is a good home remedy for sore throats, cavities and improving blood circulation.
Where to buy: Honey House
Made from 100% pure New Zealand bee propolis, this product is enriched with Vitamin E to enhance its anti-oxidant properties.
Where to buy: Robinsons
This product of the US is made of 100% premium Brazilian green propolis. It contains more than 70 active substances including Artepilin-C. It helps to prevent infections in the respiratory system.
Where to buy: amazon.sg
This product contains 50% alcohol extraction and can be used as an additive to smoothies, mixed with honey or taken by itself.
Where to buy: Honey House
Used as a supplement to improve the immune system, this spray for the throat contains raw honey, propolis, licorice root and Usnea.
Where to buy: iHerb
There are no indications yet that propolis products present high risks. When you eat honey, you would already be taking in propolis in small amounts. Unless you are allergic to honey or bees, you are unlikely to have a reaction to propolis whether consumed or applied.
A typical sign of propolis allergy is eczema-like outbreaks. Lozenges with propolis may also cause irritation and mouth ulcers.
There is also no medically recommended dosage for propolis because more research needs to be done.
There are not yet enough studies done on propolis and pregnancy or breastfeeding. Propolis is possibly safe when eaten during breastfeeding. Doses of 300mg daily over 10 months have been used safely. To be careful, avoid high doses of propolis while breastfeeding.
Some experts believe that chemicals in propolis may exacerbate asthma. To be safe, avoid using propolis if you have asthma.
A chemical in propolis may slow blood clotting. If you have a bleeding disorder or are undergoing surgery, avoid propolis at least two weeks before the surgery.