Vol. 2, # 37
September 24, 2005

Q:  What is propolis? - Layperson

A:  beecomb.gif The term "propolis" comes from two Greek words: "pro," which means "before," and "polis," which means "city." This ancient term came into being centuries ago when some early Greek student of Nature established the fact that honeybees use propolis to narrow the opening into their "cities," or hives, to keep out unwelcomed intruders. Many sources attribute the word to Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

What is Propolis ?     Propolis is a sticky resin that seeps from the buds of some trees and oozes from the bark of other trees, chiefly conifers.

The bees gather propolis, sometimes called bee glue, and carry it home in their  pollen baskets.  They blend it with wax flakes secreted from special glands on their abdomens.
Propolis is used to slickly line the interior of brood cells in preparation for the queen's laying of eggs, a most important procedure.  With its antiseptic properties, this propolis lining insures a hospital-clean environment for the rearing of brood.

The Constituents of Propolis    Chemically speaking, propolis is a very complex mixture. Its chemical elements vary according to its source.  Colors range from golden brown to brownish green to reddish brown to blackish brown.  A broad analysis reveals approximately 55 percent resinous compounds and balsam, 30 percent beeswax, 10 percent ethereal and aromatic oils, and 5 percent bee pollen.  Many flavonols contribute to propolis.  Other components include cinnamic acid, cinnamyl alcohol, vanillin, caffeic acid, tetochrysin, isalpinin, pinocembrin, chrysin, galangin, and ferulic acid.

The Properties of Propolis     Propolis is another medicinal marvel from the beehive.  Research shows it offers antiseptic, antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal, and even antiviral properties.  Propolis is Nature's premiere preventive.  It is so powerful in action, it is often called Russian penicillin in acknowledgement of the extensive research the Russians have mounted on this wonder worker from the bees.  Propolis demonstrates strong antimicrobial properties against various bacterial and fungal infestations.  Even streptococcus bacteria have been shown sensitive to propolis.

Natures's Preventive Medicine     Propolis has been justly called Nature's premier preventive.  The immune system is supported and strengthened by the ingestion of propolis.  Modern scientific studies indicate that those who take propolis regularly escape winter colds and sore throats and seem to develop a natural immunity to common viruses, including the various strains of flu.

Chemical antibiotics destroy all bacteria in the body, both the friendly, (necessary flora required for healthy functioning in the entire gastrointestinal tract) and the bad intestinal flora.  An individual who constantly takes prescribed antibiotics for one condition after another soon learns to his sorrow that the drugs may no longer work as well as they once did.  As invading bacteria get "smarter," the drugs become less and less effective.

Propolis, the natural antibiotic, works against harmful bacteria without destroying the friendly bacteria the body needs.  Propolis has also been proven effective against strains of bacteria that resist chemical antibiotics.

The field of influence of propolis is extremely broad.  It includes cancer, infection of the urinary tract, swelling of the throat, gout, open wounds, sinus congestion, colds, influenza, bronchitis, gastritis, diseases of the ears, periodontal disease, intestinal infections, ulcers, eczema eruptions, pneumonia, arthritis, lung disease, stomach virus, headaches, Parkinson's disease, bile infections, sclerosis, circulation deficiencies, warts, conjunctivitis, and hoarseness.

Propolis helps regulate hormones and is an antibiotic substance that stimulates the natural resistance of the body.  Propolis may be used by everyone, sick or healthy, as a means of protection against microorganisms.  Propolis is also efficient against conditions caused by bacteria, viruses, or different fungi.  Propolis cures many diseases because it is a special natural substance with strong effect.

A natural mixture of bee pollen and other substances produced by honey bees, propolis offers significant anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits. Not surprisingly, research finds propolis, or "bee glue," comparable to silver sulfadiazine in treating second-degree burns. Following minor burn patients, investigators noted no significant difference between the natural and pharmaceutical treatments in the formation of bacterial colonies. In addition, burns treated with propolis were less inflamed, and the patients using this natural skin cream healed faster . Propolis is also less expensive and less likely to produce allergic side effects/reactions and contact dermatitis.

One of the most significant medical journal articles described how the caffeic acids in propolis and honey might prevent colon cancer, which kills some 60,000 Americans each year. Chinthalapally V. Rao, Ph.D., of the American health Foundation, Valhalla, N.Y., reported in Cancer Research (Sept.15,1993; 53:1482-88) that these caffeic acids prevented the formation of precancerous tissue in rats after they were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

Most medical articles, however, still point to the value of propolis as a powerful, natural antibiotic. That doesn't mean eating propolis will let you throw away your antibiotics - only that you may not need them quite as often.

Why would bees need substances with broad antibacterial and antiviral properties? Any beekeeper will tell you the answer. Bees are very susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, which can destroy hives the way the bubonic plague ravaged Europe in the 17th century.

Two medical journal articles document the activity of propolis specifically against Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium that causes dangerous and often deadly surgical infections, blood poisoning, and a type of pneumonia. Five to 10 percent of all patients hospitalized in the United States develop such infections, and S. aureus has become resistant to all but one pharmaceutical antibiotic.

In a Chinese study, researchers found that extracts of propolis - specifically, sinapic, isoferulic, and caffeic acids - inhibited the growth of S. aureus (Qiao Z, China Journal of Chinese Materi Medica, Aug. 1991;16:481-2). A European study reported that ethanol extracts from propolis had a "marked synergistic effect" on the anti-staph activity of two antibiotics, streptomycin and cloxacillin, and a moderate effect on several others (Krol W, Arzneimittel-Forschung, May 1993;43:607-9).

Another scientific investigation discovered that propolis inhibited the activity of several streptococcal bacteria species that cause dental caries.Japanese researchers reported that propolis-fed laboratory fats had far fewer caries than those given a regular diet. Propolis protected specifically against Streptococcus mutans and several other strep species (Ikeno K, Caries research, 1991;25:347-51). These strep species are closely related to the germ that causes strep throat.

Propolis works against bacteria in several ways. One study reported that it prevented bacterial cell division and also broke down bacterial walls and cytoplasm, which is how some prescription antibiotics work (Takaisi-KikuniNB, Planta Medica, June 1994;60:222-7).

Perhaps more remarkable is that propolis acts against viruses, which antibiotics do not. A number of medical journal reports have discussed the role of propolisin fighting upper respiratory infections, such as those caused by the common cold and influenza viruses (Focht J, Arzneimittel-Forschung, Aug. 1993;43:921-3). Other investigators have reported that the cinnamic acid extracts of propolis prevent viruses from reproducing, but they worked best when used during the entire infection (Serkedjieva J, Journal of Natural Products, March 1992;55:294-302).

Underpinning many of the benefits of propolis is that some of its components,like the flavonoids and ethanols, function as antioxidant free-radical scavengers. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Jan. 1994;21:9-13)noted that some of the antioxidant phenols in propolis functioned similarly to vitamin E. In another article, researchers described that propolis had anti-inflammatory properties and that it could also prevent blood clots(Drugs Under Experimental & Clinical Research, 1993; 19:197-203).

As usual, consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making changes to your healthcare regime especially those with allergies.


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DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

2002 Nature's Corner