What is propolis?
Many people think that the only thing that bees make is honey. Well, that’s far from the truth. Apart from honey, bees produce a compound known as propolis. Propolis is produced from the sap on evergreens or needle-leaved trees. When the bees combine their discharge and beeswax with the sap, it results in a sticky product with a greenish-brown color. This is what they use coating for their hives. This material is called propolis.
Many years ago, ancient civilizations used propolis due to its many medicinal properties. The Greeks treated abscesses with it. Assyrians used it to treat infections on tumors and wounds. Egyptians used propolis to embalm mummies.
Propolis has varying compositions. The composition depends on the location of the bees and the kind of flowers and trees that the bees have access to. For instance, the propolis made by bees in Europe won't be the same as that of Brazil. The chemical composition will differ. This can make it hard for researchers to conclude their health benefits.
Healing components in propolis
Scientists have discovered over 300 compounds in propolis. Most of these compounds are variants of polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds with antioxidant properties that fight free radicals in the body.
The major polyphenols contained in propolis are called flavonoids. Flavonoids protect the plants. They’re mostly found in foods with antioxidant properties, such as:
- Green tea
- Red wine
What does the research say?
Propolis is believed to have antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, scientific studies on this is limited. Researchers are unsure, but propolis appears to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.
Wounds & injuries
There's an active compound in propolis known as pinocembrin. It is a flavonoid with antifungal properties. The antimicrobial and antifungal properties of propolis enhance its wound-healing effects. A particular study found that propolis speeds up the healing of traumatic burns by promoting the growth of new cells.
Another study discovered that alcoholic extract of topical propolis was able to reduce mast cells faster and better than steroid cream. These mast cells were present in wounds obtained during oral surgery. Mast cells are usually associated with inflammation. They also slow down the healing of wounds.
Genital herpes and cold sores
Ointments such as Coldsore-FX and Herstate contain up to 3% propolis. These ointments accelerate healing time and resolve symptoms in genital herpes sores and cold sores.
A particular study found that the application of topical propolis thrice daily healed cold sores faster. The researchers discovered that propolis reduced the number of herpes virus in the body, and also provided some form of immunity against future outbreaks of cold sores.
Researchers have suggested that propolis may play helpful roles in the treatment of certain cancers. According to a particular study, some of the anti-cancer effects of propolis include:
- Preventing the multiplication of cancer cells.
- Reducing the likelihood of cells developing into cancers.
- Blocking signaling pathways between cancer cells.
Results from the study also indicated that propolis could act as a complementary therapy for cancer. Another study discovered that Chinese propolis works well as a complementary therapy for breast cancer. This was attributed to its anti-tumor effects.
Safety concerns about propolis
Scientists do not have much evidence to conclude whether propolis is safe or not. However, they are not classified as high-risk products. People take in some amount of propolis whenever they eat honey. But then, if you are allergic to bees or honey, you will react to products that contain propolis.
Beekeepers have a high chance of developing an allergy to propolis because they stay around the compound for extended periods. The reaction usually takes the form of an eczema-like breakout. Consult your doctor before using propolis, especially if you have asthma or any underlying allergy.
Where can I get propolis?
You can buy it in health food stores or pharmacies. Topical forms are available as ointments, creams, and lotions. You can also take it orally (as capsules, liquid extract, or tablet forms).