Propolis starts as the sticky resinous sap which seeps from the buds of
certain trees and oozes from the bark of others. The bees gather this "bee
glue" and carry it back to the hive where it is blended with wax flakes
secreted from special glands on the underside of the bees abdomen. Propolis is
used to line the interior of brood cells in preparation for the Queens laying of
eggs. With its antiseptic properties it provides a hospital clean environment
for the rearing of brood. Propolis is a very complex mixture that varies
according to the source it comes from. At least 180 different compounds have
been identified so far in propolis. A broad analysis reveals approximately
55% resinous compounds and balsams, 30% beeswax, 10% ethereal and aromatic oils,
and 5% bee pollen. Many flavonoids contribute to propolis and have a great deal
to do with its antibacterial qualities. Other components include cinnamic acid,
cinnamyl alcohol, vanillin, caffeic acid, tectochrysin, isalpinin,, pinocembrin,
chrysin, galangin, and ferulic acid.
Research shows that propolis offers antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-fungal, and
even antiviral properties. It is often called "Russian Penicillin" in
acknowledgement of the extensive research that has been done by the Soviets. One
of the most valuable properties of all the natural bee hive products is that
they exhibit true immunostimulating characteristics. Unlike many modern medical
drugs, propolis does not depress the immune system, but instead boosts it.
Chemical antibiotics destroy all bacteria in the body including the friendly and
necessary flora required for healthy functioning. An individual that takes
constantly takes antibiotics for one condition after another soon learns that
the drugs no longer work as well as they once did. As the bacteria get "smarter"
the drugs become less effective over time. It is a medical fact that some
biologically harmful strains of bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics.
Propolis, being a natural antibiotic works against harmful bacteria without
destroying the friendly bacteria your body needs. Propolis has been proven
effective against some strains of bacteria that resist chemical antibiotics.
Propolis is collected by commercial beekeepers, either by
scraping the substance from wooden hive parts, or by using specially constructed
collection mats. The raw product undergoes secondary processing to remove
beeswax and other impurities before being used in a variety of natural health
care products (eg., lozenges, tinctures, ointments, toothpaste).
Propolis is derived from the Greek works pro ("before")
and polis ("city"), and refers to the observation made by beekeepers in
ancient times that bees often built a wall of propolis at the front entrance of
Propolis has been used by man since early times, for various
purposes, and especially as a medicine because of its antimicrobial properties
(Crane, 1997). Ancient Greek texts refer to the substance as a "cure for bruises
and suppurating sore", and in Rome propolis was used by physicians in making
poultices. The Hebrew word for propolis is tzori, and the therapeutic
properties of tzori are mentioned throughout the Old Testament. Records from
12th century Europe describe medical preparations using propolis for
the treatment of mouth and throat infections, and dental caries.
One of the non-medicinal uses of propolis is as a varnish, and
it has been suggested that the special properties of Stradivarius violins may be
partly due to the type of propolis used, although the claim cannot be
Ethanol extracts of propolis have been found to transform human
hepatic and uterine carcinoma cells in vitro, and to inhibit their growth
(Matsuno, 1992). Substances isolated in propolis which produce this cytotoxic
effect are quercetin, caffeic acid, and clerodane diterpendoid. Clerodane
diterpendoid shows a selective toxicity to tumour cells.
Propolis was also found to have a cytotoxic and cytostatic
effect in vitro against hamster ovary cancer cells and sarcoma-type
tumours in mice (Ross, 1990). The substance has also displayed cytotoxicity on
cultures of human and animal tumour cells, including breast carcinoma, melanoma,
colon, and renal carcinoma cell lines. (Grunberger et al, 1988). The component
producing these effects was identified as caffeic acid phenethy ester.
A substance called Artepillin C has been isolated from
propolis, and has been shown to have a cytotoxic effect on human gastric
carcinoma cells, human lung cancer cells and mouse colon carcinoma cells in
vitro (Kimoto, et al, 1995).
The flavonoids concentrated in propolis are powerful
antioxidants, and have been shown to be capable of scavenging free radicals and
thereby protecting lipids and other compounds such as Vitamin C from being
oxidised or destroyed (Popeskovic, et al, 1980). It is probable that active free
radicals, together with other factors, are responsible for cellular ageing and
degradation in such conditions as cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, cancer,
diabetes, Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease.
Wound Healing and
Tissue Repair Effects
Propolis has been shown to stimulate various enzyme systems,
cell metabolism, circulation and collagen formation, as well as improve the
healing of burn wounds (Ghisalberti, 1979; Krell, 1996). These effects have been
shown to be the result of the presence of arginine in propolis (Gabrys, et al,
1986). Propolis and aloe vera was found to be superior to standard wound
treatment products in trials on mice (Sumano-Lopez, et al, 1989).
Propolis and some of its components produce anaesthesia, which
in some studies has been shown to be 3 times as powerful as cocaine and 52 times
that of procaine, when tested in rabbit cornea (Ghisalberti, 1979). The
anaesthetic effect has been shown to be produced by pinocembrin, pinostrobin,
caffeic acid esters components in propolis (Paintz and Metzner, 1979).
The anaesthetic effect may explain why propolis has been used
for centuries in the treatment of sore throats and mouth sores. An
anaesthetising ointment for dentistry using propolis has been patented in Europe
Effects on Immune
Propolis has been shown to stimulate an immune response in mice
(Manolova, et al, 1987). More recently, Japanese researchers have shown an
extract of propolis to produce a macrophage activation phenomenon related to the
immune function in humans (Moriyasu, et al, 1993). Propolis activates immune
cells which produce cytokines. The results help to explain the anti-tumour
effect produced by propolis.
Propolis has been shown to suppress HIV-1 replication and
modulate in vitro immune responses, and, according to the authors, "May
constitute a non-toxic natural product with both anti-HIV-1, and
immunoregulatory effects" (Harish, et al, 1997).
In mice, a concentrated extract of propolis has been shown to
reduce blood pressure, produce a sedative effect, and maintain serum glucose
(Kedzia et al, 1988). Dihydroflavonoids, as contained in propolis, have been
shown to strengthen capillaries (Roger, 1988), and produce antihyperlipidemic
activity (Choi, 1991). Propolis has also been shown to protect the liver against
alcohol (ethanol) and tetrachloride in rats (Coprean, et al, 1986).
Dental Care Effects
In rats inoculated with S. sobrinus, about half of their
fissures were carious, while dental caries were significantly less in rats given
water containing propolis extract. No toxic effects of propolis on the growth of
rats were observed under experimental conditions in this study (Ikeno, et al,
1991). Propolis has also been shown to be effective as a subsidiary treatment
for gingivitis (gum infections) and plaque (Neumann, et al, 1986). A 50%
propolis extract was found to antiseptic against pulp gangrene (Gafar, et al,
Effects on Humans
A total of 260 steel workers suffering from bronchitis were
treated for 24 days by various methods including local and systemic regulation
of the immune system and local treatment with an ethanol extract of propolis
(EEP) in a physiological salt solution. Best results were obtained with
inhalation of the extract, together with propolis tablets (Scheller et al,
1989a). Propolis has also shown positive effects in other otorhinolaryngologic
diseases, such as pharyngitis (Doroshenko, 1975), chronic bronchitis (Scheller,
et al, 1989a), rhinopharyngolaryngitis (Isakbaev, 1986), pharyngolaryngitis
(Lin, et al, 1993), catarrh (Zommer-Urbanska et al, 1987), and rhinitis (Nunex,
et al, 1988).
Sixty students were divided into groups to test the effect of
propolis on the development of plaque and gingivitis. The results suggest that a
propolis preparation can be a useful subsidiary treatment in oral hygiene
(Neumann, et al, 1986).
A strong immune deficiency was found in 2 patients with
alveolitis fibroticans. Treatment with a combination of the propolis, Esberitox
N and calcium-magnesium resulted in good improvements in the state of the immune
system and the clinical condition of both patients (Scheller et al, 1989 b).
Clinical applications of propolis (1-10%) in ether or alcohol
were effective against 10 superficial fungi and 9 deep-growing fungi. On oral
treatment of 160 psoriasis patients with 0.3 g propolis 3 times daily for 3
months, about one-third were cured or greatly improved (Fang Chu, 1978).
Patients (110) infected with ringworm were treated with 50%
propolis as a unguent. In 97 patients it was found to produce excellent results
Sixty-four patients with tibial skin ulcers, aged from 23 to 98
years, were treated using propolis tincture in an ointment. The ointment was
applied daily to the ulcerated area, which was also treated on the periphery
with antibiotic ointments. The treatment lasted for 4-12 weeks. At the end of
treatment, 19 of the 64 treated patients exhibited no clinical signs of the
condition, 19 an improved condition (Korsun, 1983).
Patients (229) with burns, clean wounds, infected wounds or
abscesses/ulcers were treated with a cream containing propolis at two
concentrations (2% and 8%). The higher concentration caused local intolerance in
18% of patients by day 9, whereas the lower concentration caused symptoms in
only 1.8% of patients by day 16. Burns and wounds treated with the low
concentration cream healed in 11 days on average, septic wounds in 17.5 days,
67% of ulcers in 36 days (Morales and Garbarino, 1996).
Patients (126) suffering external otitis, chronic mesotypanic
otitis and tympan perforation were treating with propolis solutions (5-10%). A
positive therapeutic result was reported in most cases (Matel, et al, 1973).
Propolis has also shown positive results in the treatment of acute inflammations
of the ear (Palos, et al, 1989).
Patients (90) with cases of vagina and uterus cervix
inflammation caused by S. pyogenes were treated with 3% propolis ethanol
extract. Over 50% of the cases responded well to this treatment (Zawadzki and
Patients (138) suffering giardiasis were treated with propolis
extracts (10-20%). In children, 52% showed a cure at the lower dose. In adults,
the cure rate was the same as for tinidazole, an antiprotozoan drug, at the 20%
extract, and 60% vrs. 40% for tindazole at a higher concentration (30% propolis
extract) (Mirayes, et al, 1988).
The diverse use of propolis in clinical trials shows that its
therapeutic efficacy lies mainly in diseases caused by microbial contaminations
Raw propolis is collected by beekeepers and sold in bulk to
companies that refine the product and turn it into usable extracts. Most
commercial uses of propolis are based on preparations made up from these
extracts. Methods include ethanol extraction (EEP), glycol extraction (GEP),
aqueous (water) extraction (AEP), oil extraction (OEP), and water-soluble
derivatives (WSD). Where solvents are used, reduction or elimination of the
solvent is necessary, either by freeze-drying, vacuum distillation, or
evaporation. Extraction is used to remove the beeswax which is mixed with the
propolis by the bees during use in the hive, as well as other non-active
components such as resinous-balsam substances.
Main commercial uses of propolis are as a dietary supplement
and therapeutic. Propolis is sold in tablets (singularly, or in combination with
other substances such as pollen, royal jelly and non-hive products), and
tinctures, and as an ingredient in lozenges, skin creams, shampoos, lipsticks,
toothpastes and mouthwashes. Tinctures and lozenges are popular treatment for
sore throats, and tinctures are often used to treat cuts, mouth sores and skin
rashes. The antioxidant, antimicrobial and antifungal activities of propolis
also offer opportunities in food technology. In Japan, the use of propolis is
permitted as a preservative in frozen fish (Krell, 1996).
Propolis is a stable product, but should nevertheless be stored
in airtight containers in the dark, preferably away from excessive and direct
heat. Propolis does not lose much of its antibiotic activity, even when stored
for 12 months or longer. Propolis and its extract function as a mild
preservative due to their antioxidant and antimicrobial activities and thus may
actually prolong the shelf life of some products (Krell, 1996).