What is propolis?

Along with the other fruits of their labor, including honey and royal jelly, bees create propolis from the resin of trees. After gathering the resin, bees transform it into a very sticky and antimicrobial mixture that they use to patch up their hive.

Due to its antimicrobial properties, it also disinfects the hive and prevents outbreaks of viruses and bacteria. Bees even use propolis to immobilize intruders (source). So basically, propolis is bee duct tape!

Bees living in hollow trees will coat the inside of the cavity thickly with propolis.  After an experiment, researchers at The University of Minnesota found that bees housed in a nest box coated with propolis had lower bacterial loads in their body and also ‘quieter’ immune systems compared to the colonies with no propolis coating.

So, although bees never eat propolis, this unique substance plays a key role in their immune system. Through the same properties, propolis can boost our immune system and overall wellness.  

Why I take propolis

General immune system support – Propolis supports the immune system in various ways. First, the antimicrobial properties suppress harmful bacteria and infections. Further, it actually stimulates the immune system and raises the body’s natural resistance (source).

I diligently take my dose of propolis during cold and flu season. I can’t, however, credit any one part of my diet or supplement regime for keeping me healthy (not a single cold this year! *knocks on wood*). I do take a double dose of propolis if I wake up and feel something coming on, and I will feel better the next day.

Acne – Used internally and externally, propolis may improve skin and reduce breakouts. One study (discussed here) showed that propolis showed activity against the bacteria primarily responsible for breakouts. I suggest taking propolis internally (I explain how to take it at the end of this post).

To use propolis externally, dab propolis honey directly on the pimple (do a test first to see if your skin reacts) and leave it on for 5 – 15 minutes. I also use the propolis honey as a mask, applying a thin layer over my entire face and rinsing it off after 15 minutes.

Improved energy – I can testify to this point! Many individuals report “Improved energy” by taking propolis daily. Although this is a subjective statement and I am not aware of any clinical research backing it up, I’ve found this true in my own experience.  A general “get ‘er done!” attitude. It wasn’t anything like a caffeine buzz, but just a very gentle little boost of energy throughout the day. With that said, I am very sensitive to all foods and supplements so my experience will not necessarily be your experience.

Health Benefits of Raw propolis

Anticancer Activity

In the August 2009 issue of the Oncology Report, a group of scientist’s looked into the growth inhibitory activity of Propolis in human colon cancer cell lines.More than 300 bio-active compounds have been identified from bee propolis in various regions of the world. The objective of this study was to examine whether the propolis may exert anticancer activities in four human colon cancer cell lines.In three of the four cell lines, the propolis caused a marked dose-dependent growth inhibition on the cancer cells. In the fourth cell line, propolis induced apoptosis (complete cell death) in the cells after 72 h of treatment. (this is amazing!)The report concluded that their findings indicate that the propolis contain components that may have anticancer activity. Ultimately, one of the many bee propolis health benefits may be as a colon cancer preventative and treatment. But propolis’ effect don’t appear to be limited to just colon cancer – studies are showing that it has positive activity against other cancers as well.

Asthma

Propolis has a good reputation for having beneficial effects in asthma patients. But the mechanism was not clearly understood so scientists looked at the effect of a compound called CAPE (caffeic acid phenethyl ester). CAPE is the most extensively studied component in propolis and has shown tremendous results in many other studies for conditions ranging from inflammation to athletic performance.The scientists concluded that propolis (more specifically the CAPE in propolis) inhibited the inflammatory and immune response that asthmatics often experience. They went on to say that “this study provided a new insight into the mechanism of CAPE in immune response and the rationale for propolis in the treatment of asthma and other allergic disorders.”I just recently began using propolis with a long term allergy and asthma sufferer. Results have been very promising so far. Their occurrence of chest colds has decreased to zero so far. I’m having him continue with the propolis through the summer so it will be interesting to see how his allergies improve.

Radioprotective Effect

The aim of this study was to assess whether one of the many bee propolis health benefits is a radio protective effect in mice exposed to a single radiation dose.The mice were treated with quercetin or propolis each day for three consecutive days either before or after being exposed to gamma-irradiation. The scientists found that the mice that received the propolis before being exposed were less sensitive to irradiation than those given the propolis or quercetin after being exposed. So it is a good idea to take your bee propolis each morning before you begin using your cell phone or microwave.We are all exposed to radiation on a daily basis now due to the countless cell phone and satellite signals that surround us. I take propolis on a daily basis in order to help protect me from this excess radiation. I also take an extra dose leading up to any flying I may be doing as radiation levels are quite high in commercial planes.

Minor Burns

A study submitted to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine by Scott R. Gregory, MSII, and fellow colleagues of the School of Medicine at the University of Texas, showed that bee propolis speeds the healing of minor burns. The study was designed to compare the therapeutic effects of Brazilian propolis skin cream to treatment with silver sulfadiazene on second-degree burns in human subjects. While the research team did not observe any clinical difference in microbial colonization in the superficial wounds between the two treatment groups, they did notice that the group receiving bee propolis experienced significantly less inflammation. In addition, cicatrisation was enhanced, meaning less scarring took place.

Propolis Inhibits Pancreatic Cancer Cells

There weren’t a lot of details included with this study, but as reported in the Journal of Natural Products on July 2, 2009, a group of scientists found that propolis was able to inhibit human pancreatic cancer cells under nutrient-deprived conditions.The scientists found that one particular compound in propolisexhibited the most potent cytotoxicity in a concentration and time-dependent manner. (what that means is that the more of the compound they used and the longer they exposed it to the cancer cells, the better the results they obtained) It was also found that another compound in propolis induced apoptosis-like (programmed cell death) changes of pancreatic cancer cells within 24 h of treatment. Essentially, the bee propolis caused the cancer cells to ‘self destruct.’ Of the dozens of bee propolis health benefits, this particular capability just may be the most exciting of all as pancreatic cancer has very low rates of survivorship. It is very difficult to treat and standard chemotherapy treatments are not effective in most cases

Cholesterol

As reported in the Journal of Food Science in June/July 2009, rats were fed either a control diet or a propolis diet for 8 weeks to determine if one of its many benefits includes the ability to reduce body fat and cholesterol levels. What the scientists found was that the rats fed a propolis diet had lower adipose tissue levels than the rats fed the control diet. Furthermore, the propolis group showed significantly reduced levels of cholesterol and triglyceride compared to the control group.While more studies do need to be done, it is possible that the administration of propolis reduces the accumulation of body fat while improving lipid metabolism resulting in reduced cholesterol.

Dental Health

According to the National Institutes of Health, initial studies demonstrate that using a mouthwash containing bee propolis may inhibit oral bacteria, reduce inflammation associated with periodontitis and prevent the formation of dental plaque. In addition, Brazilian ethanol propolis extract may inhibit candidiasis of the mouth, while a dental gel consisting of propolis and caffeic acid phenethyl ester appears to lessen dental pain. Andrew Weil, M.D., further notes that bee propolis is being investigated as potential tooth sealant and enamel hardener.

Herpes

This study on the anti-viral effects of bee propolis was reported in the August 12, 2009 issue of Phytomedicine.Genital herpes caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is a sexually transmitted disease. The scientists aimed to determine if one of the main bee propolis health benefits is an ability to kill the HSN-2. What they found was that both a water based propolis extract and an alcohol based extract exhibited high levels of antiviral activity against HSV-2 in tests. They also found that infectivity was reduced by greater than 99% and anti-herpetic activity could be demonstrated for both extracts. The more concentrated the dose and the longer it was applied yielded greater anti-viral activity. The doctors also noted when they analyzed the propolis extracts, they found many different polyphenols, flavonoids and phenylcarboxylic acids. These are the powerful health promoting compounds that provide the many bee propolis health benefits

Immune Function

Animal-based and in vitro studies indicate that bee propolis may stimulate the immune system and may deter various viral infections, including herpes simplex virus and intestinal infections caused by Helicobacter pylori. However, as NIH states, more research is needed in this area to support these preliminary findings.

Cell Phone Radiation

More and more people are becoming concerned about the negative health effects of long term cell phone use. I know I certainly am!But who would have thought that one of the many bee propolis health benefits is it’s ability to protect us from EMF radiation?This very interesting study examining if propolis can indeed protect us was reported in Toxicology and Industrial Health, Vol. 25 in 2009.In the study, the scientists aimed to investigate the possible protective effects of a powerful compound found in propolis called caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) and the activities of antioxidant enzymes in the liver of rats exposed to a 900 MHz electromagnetic field (EMF). This would be similar to the EMF you are exposed to each day using your cell phone.What the scientists found was that in the rats that received the propolis extract, anti-oxidant levels remained elevated (this is very good as anti-oxidants protect us) whereas in the rats that did not receive the propolis, the EMF reduced the anti-oxidant levels. Ultimately, they concluded that the propolis extract CAPE may prevent the 900 MHz EMF-induced oxidative changes by strengthening the antioxidant defense system and increasing anti-oxidant activity. If you must use your cell phone daily for long periods of time, I highly recommend you take bee propolis several times throughout the day to help protect yourself from the radiation being emitted by your phone.

Inflammatory Disease

NIH notes that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that bee propolis exerts anti-inflammatory effects, which suggests that this substance may help to treat various inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatism. Dr. Weil makes a similar reference to this use of bee propolis in his online blog.

Other health benefits of propolis

Parasites – Research shows the potential use of propolis for parasite treatment. One preliminary trial showed that those who took propolis experienced a 52 to 60 percent rate of successful elimination of the parasite giardiasis (source).

Since parasites are difficult to diagnose (symptoms frequently look like other health problems), parasites pose a challenging and unexpectedly widespread health issue. Propolis, due to its soothing and immune-supporting factors,  can be generally to support health even if you aren’t sure of a parasite infection. Additionally, it can usually be combined with other parasite treatments.

Canker sores – Many people experience quick relief from canker sores by applying a drop of propolis tincture directly to the sore 2-3 times per day.

Endometriosis  – a quickly growing number of women struggle with endometriosis, a disorder where the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of the uterus into other organs of the body. It causes pain, fatigue, bowel issues, infertility and more. In one study, women with endometriosis took propolis to increase fertility. Those taking propolis had a pregnancy success rate of 60% compared to 20% taking the placebo (source).

 Cavities – In an animal study, propolis cut cavity rates by up to 60% and partially impairs the enzyme that causes dental plaque. All-natural propolis toothpaste (it contains “purified water, baking soda, xanthan gum, propolis extract, grapefruit oil, clove oil, tea tree oil”) provides the powerful cavity-fighting compounds directly to the teeth. You can also dab propolis tincture directly on the cavities a few times per day. For a full protocol to reverse tooth decay and cavities, I recommend the book Cure Tooth Decay.

Bee propolis has so many uses and is used in the production of chewing gum, throat lozenges, cosmetics, creams, lotions and other types of personal care products. It is also used in the manufacturing of wood varnishes. Bee propolis is also a traditional polish used by makers of musical instruments to highlight the grain of wood. In fact, according to Maaret Toprakci, B.S., of Nutritional Consultants Group, Inc., Antonio Stradivari, the famed maker of the prized Stradivarius violin, reputedly used it.

How to take propolis

There are a few options for taking propolis:

  • I take this organic propolis and raw honey blend. A general dose suggestion is 1/2 teaspoon twice per day (I take it morning and afternoon). I eat it straight from the jar – just scoop out a serving and swallow it. It tastes sweet – a bit like molasses – and delicious! It can also be applied topically for acne.
  • You can also take propolis tincture. Mix 5 drops into a little bit of honey and swallow. Take 3 times per day. I find this method more time consuming and messy.
  • Finally, there are propolis capsules, an easy and mess-free method but you can’t use it topically. Take 1-2 capsules twice per day.
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