What is Propolis?
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 used as a coating to build their hives. This is propolis.
Healing compounds in propolis
Researchers have identified more than 300 compounds in propolis. The majority of these compounds are forms of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that fight disease and damage in the body.
Specifically, propolis contains the polyphenols called flavonoids. Flavonoids are produced in plants as a form of protection. They’re commonly found in foods thought to have antioxidant properties, including:
- green tea
- red wine
One 2019 review suggests that people have used propolis as a medicine since the year 300 BC. Ancient Egyptians used propolis for embalming, and some doctors used it during World War II to help with wound healing.
The same 2019 review suggests that it may have the following properties:
- antiprotozoal, which means that it works against parasitic illnesses, such as giardiasis
Some of the substances present in propolis may also have anticancer properties.
However, although laboratory and animal studies into the properties of propolis and its components are promising, few high quality studies have proven its effectiveness as a treatment for specific conditions in humans.
Modern research suggests that propolis may be useful for:
- minor wounds
- oral hygiene
- cold sores
The following sections will look at some of this research in more detail.
One 2015 review suggests that propolis may aid wound healing. An animal study in rats with diabetes showed that propolis helped the skin grow new cells in order to repair itself.
Because people with diabetes can experience slow wound healing, this suggests that propolis could be beneficial for helping the skin heal more quickly. As propolis also kills some types of bacteria, it may also help prevent infection.
According to the same 2015 review, propolis also appears to prevent the formation of calcium phosphate, which is the main component of dental plaque.
Propolis and honey are also antibacterial, which may make them useful as ingredients in dental care products.
According to one small study in the review, propolis significantly decreased the amount of bacteria in the saliva of people with periodontitis.
The antioxidants in propolis may work to reduce inflammation, such as the inflammation that arthritis causes.
Animal studies have tested propolis as an anti-inflammatory agent in rats and mice with arthritis. In both studies, the propolis inhibited swelling and appeared to have an impact on how the inflammation developed.
Scientists believe that propolis may regulate inflammatory substances in the body, such as prostaglandins.
A systematic review in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggests that propolis may work as an alternative treatment for genital or oral herpes.
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, which can result in cold sores. HSV-2 is sexually transmitted, and it causes an infection that can result in painful blisters on the genitals.
In the review, researchers analyzed several trials into honey and propolis, comparing their effects with those of acyclovir, which is a common HSV medication. In 4 out of 6 trials, propolis was more effective than acyclovir for treating HSV skin lesions — particularly cold sores.
However, the researchers did not include a large number of trials in this review.
Although people have used propolis for many health conditions in the past, there is not strong scientific evidence to support all of them.
The following sections will look at some of these health conditions in more detail.
According to the 2015 review, one older study in rats found that propolis was associated with lower blood sugar levels. However, this is not enough evidence to show that propolis can help with managing diabetes in humans.
Laboratory studies suggest that the compounds in propolis may inhibit cancer cell growth or induce cell death in cancer cells.
Some in vivo tests have shown that flavonoids from propolis can inhibit the development of oral cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, breast cancer, and more.
However, much of the research in this field has involved isolated cells or animal models.
One 2020 study in the journal Phytotherapy Research argues that propolis’s antiviral properties may mean that it works against SARS-CoV-2. This is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Previous laboratory studies have shown that propolis exhibits antiviral activity against other types of virus, including:
- influenza (flu)
- respiratory syncytial virus
Propolis also appears to help stimulate the immune system. For these reasons, the researchers suggest that propolis may help with preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection.
However, while clinical trials on propolis’s ability to prevent COVID-19 are underway, there is currently no evidence to suggest that it is effective for this purpose.
One study in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity notes that propolis contains compounds that may have an anti-allergy effect in the body.
Some people may feel a benefit from using propolis for this purpose. However, there is not much scientific evidence to prove that propolis can help reduce allergy symptoms.
Reference: Healthline, Medical News Today
Written by: Omojo Emeje