If you’re anything like me, honey already has a permanent place in your kitchen and natural remedy cabinet. It helps soothe burns, calm coughs, and even makes a great natural face wash. But it isn’t the only beneficial substance that honey bees make!
Propolis is the “bee glue” that protects and holds together the hive but this sticky substance has many health benefits as well! It is known to help in fighting cancer, soothing eczema, and even calming the flu.
Read on (or check out this podcast) to find out the many ways to use propolis extract to get the most benefit. It is important to note that like any bee product, propolis can cause an allergic reaction in anyone with an allergy to bees or bee products so do not try it if you have these conditions, and always check with a doctor before using if you have allergies, asthma, or health concerns!
What Is Propolis?
Bee propolis is a brown protective substance that bees make from a mixture of beeswax, resins, sap, botanical compounds, and their own saliva. Its name comes from the Greek pro meaning “in defense of” and polis meaning “city” — making its literal meaning “in defense of the city” (or hive).
In the hive, it is a protective substance that is vital to honey bee survival. It helps protect the bee hive against the elements, strengthens the internal structure, guards disease and parasites and even is used to mummify intruders that the bees can’t remove. Essentially, it is vital to the survival of the hive, and it can benefit humans in many ways as well!
Like all bee products, propolis offers a variety of health benefits to humans. It exhibits natural antibacterial properties and antimicrobial activity, making it a great first line of defense against any mild illnesses or sore throats that creep up. But this humble substance has also been studied for its biological activity against more serious matters like cancer cells in lab tests.
Researchers looked closely at the chemical composition and found hundreds of beneficial natural compounds including polyphenols like caffeic acid phenethyl ester, amino acids, coumarins, and even natural steroids. Due to the botanical compounds propolis also contains up to 10% essential oils and 5% bee pollen which have immune-boosting benefits on their own. These compounds help explain its anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and cancer-fighting properties.
Bee Propolis Benefits
This is one multi-purpose remedy that has been around for a long time! Historians have documented the use of propolis as far back as 300 BC. Ancient Egyptians took a cue from the bees and used propolis in their mummification rituals (just as bees use it to this day to mummify hive intruders and protect the hive from bacteria when the intruder decomposes).
Other cultures use it just like we can today — as an all-around natural healthcare remedy.
These days, this sticky substance appears in everything from gum to cosmetics and salves to lozenges. Science is looking at propolis as a component in dental treatments and to harden enamel. Recent studies even show its effectiveness against skin problems, burns, inflammatory problems, and even herpes!
More studies are needed, but thousands of years of safe historical use and my own anecdotal evidence are enough to convince me to always keep this “bee glue” around my house.
Here’s a little more detail on what bee propolis can do for health:
1. Boosts the Immune System
My personal favorite use for propolis is to ward off cold and flu. I keep a handy little propolspray in my purse, bathroom, and kitchen at all times. At the first sign of sniffles or sore throat, I spray this directly into the throat. My kids even love this remedy, because like honey (and all bee products), it tastes great!
But don’t just take my word for it! A couple recent studies shed some really positive light on propolis as a cold remedy! A 1989 study followed people suffering from acute cold symptoms and found that symptoms started to improve on the first day of treatment with propolis. Five patients made a complete recovery in the following day, with sixteen more recovering on the second day and three more in the third. In contrast, the placebo group recovered in an average mean of 4.80 days.
In short, the group receiving propolis therapy recovered from colds 2.5 times faster than the placebo group.
A 1995 study looked at school children for an entire cold/flu season and found a “lowering of the number of cases with acute or chronic symptoms, and decrease and sometimes suppression of the viral-microbial flora carriage of the upper airways” with the use of bee propolis.
This is why propolis and elderberry syrup are two natural products that are staples in our home during the winter months!
2. Fights Inflammation
A recent study showed that Brazilian propolis has the ability to block the serine/theonine protein kinase known as PAK-1.
(If that last sentence didn’t make any sense, don’t feel bad. I only knew what it means because I’m a huge fan of Dr. Rhonda Patrick and her work. She talks often about PAK-1 inhibitors like curcumin and caffeic acid and how they extend lifespan in c.elegans (fruit flies). Fellow science geeks, check it out… it’s fascinating!)
How is this all related? In short, propolis contains compounds like flavanoids, caffeic acid, quercetin, naringenin, and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) that all help reduce the chronic inflammatory response, at least in mice and fruit flies. But evidence shows that these effects happen in humans too.
3. Soothes and Protects Skin
I’ve been washing my face with honey for years but I’ve recently added propolis to my skincare arsenal as well. I find that it drastically speeds healing of minor cuts and burns, but research shows it has other skin benefits I haven’t had to test (thankfully), including:
In a randomized controlled trial, researchers tested propolis against echinacea and a placebo for wart treatment. The results were stunning: Propolis completely stopped warts in 75% and 73% of patients with plane and common warts (respectively). This was significantly better than the results associated with echinacea treatment or placebo. Researchers concluded that propolis is an effective and safe immunomodulating therapy for warts.
For Cold Sores:
In a similar way, this resinous substance may also help battle cold sores/ulcers. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is very common. HSV-1 virus causes cold sores or fever blisters of the lips mouth. It can also cause genital herpes, though HSV-2 is the more common cause of this type.
The good news is that propolis does battle (and wins) against both strains, according to research! Recent studies show that propolis reduced the pain and duration of cold sores and fever blisters and that it even made conventional medical treatments more effective as well.
Eczema and Psoriasis:
The anti-inflammatory effects of propolis may also make it beneficial against skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and bring some relief.
4. Calming Allergies
As mentioned, if you are allergic to bee products, it is important to avoid propolis. For those of us who aren’t, propolis (& bee pollen) can actually help calm allergies and avoid them over time. One study found that propolis (and bee pollen to a lesser degree) reduced histamine release from mast cells in rats. In essence, this makes it a natural antihistamine and my first round of defense against seasonal allergies.
5. Battling Cancer
This last benefit is a controversial one, but there is some research to back it up. It goes without saying that anyone with cancer should find doctors and practitioners that support their healing journey and do a lot of research (this is a great story and resource to start with). If I was ever diagnosed, I’d likely use propolis as part of my recovery protocol.
Initial studies show that this vital bee product may be beneficial against prostate and colon cancer, among others. Studies showed that propolis caused cancer cells to die by necrosis. This means that it interrupted the blood supply to the cell and caused just the harmful cells to die but did not harm healthy cells.
How to Find High Quality Propolis
If you are already a beekeeper (or have a kid who is, like I do), you are in luck! Bees naturally produce propolis and you can harvest it from your hive. If you aren’t a beekeeper but are thinking about becoming one, this site is a great place to start.
However, if bees aren’t in your backyard or in your future, there are now some great natural sources of propolis that taste good and work great.
Raw honey naturally contains small amounts of propolis so it is great to have around the house and use regularly, especially in kids. But for acute cases, I like to have a more concentrated form and I found a non-alcohol non-GMO glycerin-based spray that I love (and that is majorly kid-approved… they beg for it). This is my go-to first line of defense for colds, flu, skin problems and burns now.
When to Avoid Propolis
As I mentioned, it is always important to talk to a doctor before using this or any other remedy. Those with allergic reactions to bees or bee products should avoid propolis. There is some evidence that those with asthma should avoid it or check with a doctor before use.
Additionally, propolis may slightly thin the blood. This makes it potentially beneficial for those with high blood pressure, but it should be avoided by anyone with bleeding disorders or who is taking blood thinners.
I got the all-clear to use propolis from my doc and midwife last time I was pregnant, but I’d also recommend talking to yours if you are pregnant or nursing.
Propolis: Bottom Line
Like everything honey bees create (honey, royal jelly, bee pollen, etc.), propolis is amazing and may have some serious benefits. I’d highly recommend learning more about how we can all work to save the bees and taking small steps in your own yard to help protect these important pollinators. Even if you just make a small bee house or hotel for solitary bees, you can help the cause.
Since we can’t all be beekeepers (though that would be awesome!), it’s great that there are now some high-quality natural sources of propolis that we can all benefit from. Do your own research and consider adding this sticky-substance to your home remedies cabinet.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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