Propolis is a resin that bees create. It contains a mixture of bee saliva, beeswax which can be used into beeswax candles, and substances from plants and trees. Propolis may have some health benefits for humans, but more large-scale studies are necessary.
Bees use propolis, or “bee glue,” as a sealant. Historically, humans have used it topically or as an oral supplement. However, it may not be suitable for everyone.
This article will look at what propolis is, what the research says about its potential benefits, and how to use it.
What is propolis?
Propolis is a resinous, waxy substance that bees create by mixing their saliva with beeswax, along with compounds from various plants and trees. Bees use it to seal gaps in the hive to keep out intruders. Propolis also has antimicrobial properties and may protect bees from pathogens.
The substances that make up propolis can be complex. Scientists have identified more than 300 separate compoundsTrusted Source in propolis. The exact composition can depend on the location of the beehive.
As a rough guideline, propolis typically consists of:
tree and vegetable resins: 50%
essential and aromatic oils: 10%
Propolis also contains polyphenols, such as flavonoids, which are a type of antioxidant.
One 2019 review suggests that people have used bee propolis as a medicine since the year 300 BCTrusted Source. 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:
The following sections will look at some of this research in more detail.
One 2015 reviewTrusted Source 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 reviewTrusted Source, 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 studiesTrusted Source 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 reviewTrusted Source, 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 studiesTrusted Source 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 ResearchTrusted Source 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:
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 LongevityTrusted Source 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.
Propolis appears to be safeTrusted Source for humans to use, at reasonable doses, both on the skin and internally. Reports of allergic reactions are rare, and there are no recorded cases of toxicity.
However, because propolis can contain a wide variety of compounds depending on where it came from, it is not always possible to be sure of its contents.
When looking for propolis products, check that the manufacturer has carried out third party testing to verify that the propolis is pure and safe to use.
Always speak with a doctor before trying new supplements.
How to use propolis
People can use propolis in several ways, including:
as an oral supplement
diluted in water as a mouthwash
topically on the skin
Before using propolis, it is best to seek the advice of a doctor to check that it will be safe for an individual to use. Then, the person should patch test some propolis to make sure that they do not have an allergy to it.
For use on the skin, apply pure propolis or a skin product that contains propolis as an active ingredient.
For use in the mouth, dilute a small amount of propolis in water. Rinse the mouth or gargle the mixture for a while before spitting it out.
Many premade products contain propolis as an active ingredient. In these cases, use the product as instructed on the label.
Research suggests that propolis has a number of properties that could benefit human health. People can use it on the skin, as a mouthwash, and as a supplement for a variety of minor health concerns. It can also be produced into bee jacket, bee suit, bee gloves, etc.
However, there is not much high quality evidence to suggest that propolis is an effective treatment for specific conditions in humans. As a result, anyone with persistent symptoms should speak with a doctor about the best treatment options.
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