The Health Benefits of Propolis

A resin produced by bees, propolis has natural healing properties

propolis and honey
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Propolis is a resinous substance that bees produce from materials collect from tree buds. Rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidants, propolis has a long history of use as a natural treatment for a host of health problems.

Research shows propolis has many healing properties, including antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor qualities.

Found in small quantities in honey, propolis is widely available in supplement form. Propolis is also used as an ingredient in certain medicinal products applied directly to the skin, such as ointments and creams. In addition, propolis is sometimes found in nasal sprays and throat sprays, as well as in mouthwash and toothpaste.

Propolis is touted as a natural treatment for the following health problems and conditions:

In addition, propolis is said to stimulate the immune system and prevent tooth decay.

Health Benefits

Although few clinical trials have tested the health effects of propolis, there's some evidence that propolis may offer certain benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available studies:

Cold Sore Treatment

Preliminary research suggests that topically applying propolis may help heal cold sores. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010, for example, scientists found that extracts of propolis possess virus-fighting effects that may help knock out against herpes simplex virus type 1, the virus that causes cold sores.

Genital Herpes Treatment

Applying a propolis-based ointment may help treat sores related to genital herpes, according to a study published in Phytomedicine. For the 10-day study, 90 men and women with genital herpes used an ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis, an ointment containing acyclovir (a drug used to reduce pain and speed healing of herpes-related sores), or a placebo ointment.

By the study's end, 24 out of the 30 participants in the propolis group had healed (compared to 14 out of 30 in the acyclovir group and 12 out of 30 in the placebo group). Given this finding, the study's authors concluded that an ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis may be more effective than both acyclovir and placebo ointments in healing sores related to genital herpes.

Burn Treatment

Propolis may promote the healing of minor burns, according to a study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. For the study, researchers compared the effects of a propolis-based skin cream with those of silver sulfadiazine, a drug commonly used in the treatment of second- and third-degree burns, in patients with second-degree burns.

Study results showed that propolis and silver sulfadiazine were similarly effective in the treatment of burns. What's more, propolis appeared to offer greater anti-inflammatory benefits than silver sulfadiazine did.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Research suggests propolis can help treat gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal cancers, and ulcers. Components in propolis, including caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), artepillin C, kaempferol, and galangin, have been shown to effectively eliminate pathogens, including H. pylori. The research, however, is limited to animal studies and cell cultures.

Cavity Control

Propolis may help fight cavities, a study from Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin shows. In laboratory research, scientists found that compounds found in propolis helped inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, an oral bacteria known to contribute to the development of cavities.

The study suggests that propolis may also help stop Streptococcus mutans from sticking to the teeth.

Diabetes Management

Findings from animal-based research indicate that propolis may aid in the treatment of diabetes. In a 2005 study published in Pharmacological Research, for example, tests on diabetic rats revealed that treatment with propolis helped lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. These results have not be replicated in human studies, however.

Possible Side Effects

Do not use propolis if you have asthma or are allergic to bee by-products (including honey), conifers, poplars, Peru balsam, and salicylates. Propolis may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding in people with bleeding disorders or during surgery.

Dosage and Preparations

Propolis is available in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powder, extract, and lozenge. When used topically, it's found in ointments, creams, lotions, and other personal-care products.

There is no recommended daily allowance of propolis and there is not enough human studies to determine how much propolis should be taken to support health conditions.

What to Look For

When selecting a brand of supplements, look for products that have been certified by Consumer Labs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. 

Other Questions

Is propolis the same as beeswax?

Bees make propolis from beeswax, saliva, and plant materials gathered. In the hive, propolis is used as a glue to close up small gaps, while beeswax is used to fill larger holes. While propolis is made from beeswax, they are not the same.

Is propolis found in honey?

A small amount of propolis may be found in certain kinds of honey. Since heat can destroy the healing qualities of propolis, stick to raw honey which is unfiltered and unpasteurized.

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