Propolis is one of the world’s oldest medicines. It can fight infections, boost the immune system, and may help with type 2 diabetes. Used since prehistoric times, the ancient Egyptians even considered it holy. Read on to learn about the health benefits of propolis, along with potential side effects and dosage information.
What Is Propolis?
The natural form of propolis — also known as bee’s glue — is a hard, brittle resin which becomes very sticky and waxy when heated up. The word propolis means “suburb” in Greek, as the bees use propolis to extend and defend their hives
Propolis is produced by honeybees using plant parts and sap. Bees use propolis as a type of cement for building, repairing, and protecting their hives against bacteria and intruders. Observing bees, humans all over the world learned to use propolis for millennia as a health supplement, “cure-all”, and even for rituals such as mummification.
Recent research and interest in propolis revealed its additional health benefits for lowering blood pressure, strengthening the bones, helping to heal wounds, and protecting the liver.
This article will guide you through the modern uses and benefits of this ancient remedy.
Propolis Bioactive Compounds
The chemical makeup of propolis is closely connected to its geographical origin, flora, and the bee species. It can vary widely, even from hive to hive.
Organic propolis is typically dark brown or green in color, has a sweet smell, and is made up of:
- Resins (50-70%)
- Beeswax (30-50%)
- Pollen (5-10%)
- Essential oils (depends on the region, usually basil, thyme, and geranium) (5-10%)
- Other compounds such as acids, sugars, and vitamins (B, C, and E) (5%-7%)
The main active ingredients in propolis are flavonoids such as chrysin, which are strong antioxidants that bees get from plant and flower parts. Bees make propolis by mixing their saliva with plant material, pollen, and beeswax.
Over 300 biologically active ingredients have been identified in propolis thus far, including fragrant chemicals, acids, carbohydrates, plant oils, and vitamins (B1, B2, C, and E). New types of propolis are being discovered as interest grows around the world.
Mechanism of Action
A large number of bioactive and antioxidant compounds in propolis explain its wide-ranging health benefits. Propolis acts in the body to [R]:
- Kill bacteria and viruses by stopping their growth and spread [R, R, R].
- Fight yeast infections by blocking the growth of yeast and fungus [R].
- Help with allergies by blocking the release of histamines [R].
- Lower blood pressure by lowering the activity of an enzyme (tyrosine hydroxylase) that can lead to high blood pressure [R].
- Boost bone health and help heal fractures by strengthening bone density [R].
- Fight cancer by blocking the growth of cancer cells and causing cell death (apoptosis) [R, R].
- Enhance tooth and oral health and neutralize cavities by killing bacteria and reducing swelling around the gums [R].
- Speed up wound healing by speeding up skin cell rejuvenation [R].
- Protect the liver from toxins, injury, and disease [R].
- Help with diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels [R].
Health Benefits of Propolis
1) Propolis Kills Bacteria and Viruses
Bees protect the hive from bacteria by covering debris with propolis to block the spread of harmful parasites [R].
Propolis can kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites when used either orally or on the skin. The two best-studied propolis varieties for this purpose are Brazilian propolis and European propolis. In one study of 30 children, a Brazilian propolis mouth rinse was effective at killing oral bacteria [R, R, R, R].
In a study on mice, propolis enhanced the activity antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral drugs. Propolis attacks microbes by switching off their ability to make copies of themselves and grow [R, R, R].
2) Propolis Is An Antioxidant
Although most of the research was in cells or animals, a few recent human studies have also confirmed the antioxidant benefits of propolis.
In a clinical trial of 67 people, 15 drops of a propolis solution (Beepolis) twice daily acted as a potent antioxidant, increased the master antioxidant glutathione, as well as the “good” cholesterol HDL. It was given for 3 months and reduced the risk of heart disease.
In a clinical trial of 47 people, powdered propolis (with about 50 mg flavonoids/day) reduced oxidative stress in men by 23% after 30 days.
3) Propolis May Help with Type 2 Diabetes
Propolis may lower high blood sugar levels and improve blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetes, according to some human and animal studies.
In a trial of patients with Type 2 diabetes, 900 mg/day of Brazilian green propolis reduced blood sugar after 18 weeks [R].
In mice with diabetes, Mexican propolis lowered blood sugar and boosted antioxidant defense [R].
4) Propolis Fights Yeast and Fungal Infections
Propolis fights yeast infections and other fungi by blocking their ability to form colonies in the body. In a study of 707 patients with fingernail fungal infections, propolis extract used applied to the nails cured infections in more than half of the participants after 6 months. It could penetrate the nail and destroy fungal biofilms [R].
In several cell studies, propolis stopped the formation of yeast clusters by dissolving this biofilm layer yeast cells use to cling to body surfaces, preventing an infection. It could also kill Candida and block its biofilms in cells [R, R, R, R].
5) Propolis May Lower Blood Pressure
In a study of 35 people, propolis slightly lowered blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) when taken twice a day for 3 months [R].
6) Propolis May Help with Allergies
Overactivation of mast cells and histamine release is the leading cause of allergic reactions, including seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema. In a mouse study, the flavonoid Quercetin found in propolis blocked histamine release and relieved allergic sinus symptoms [R, R, R].
Propolis supplementation seems to balance the Th1/Th2 response but is probably better for Th2-dominant people. Th1-dominant people should avoid propolis to prevent immune system overactivation.
7) Propolis May Help Heal Wounds
Propolis supplementation may improve wound healing by boosting the growth of new skin cells, according to animal and cellular studies [R].
Propolis sped up wound healing in mice, helping to regenerate the damaged. In a cellular study, Chinese propolis protected the cells from damage, maintained collagen activity, and turned on antioxidant glutathione genes (such as GCLM) [R, R].
8) Propolis May Boost Bone Health
Propolis may strengthen bones and keeps them healthy by increasing bone density, especially after injury [R].
In a study on rats, an active component of propolis enhanced new bone formation [R].
9) Propolis May Fight Cancer
Propolis fights cancer in cells by preventing cancer from making new blood vessels, causing cancer cells to die due to a lack of oxygen [R].
However, some propolis compounds are unstable and may need to be optimized to achieve the benefits. Optimized active compounds from propolis killed cancer in both cellular and animal studies. [R].
10) Propolis May Protect the Liver
In rats, propolis extract reduced liver damage from chronic alcohol use [R]
11) Propolis Is Good For the Teeth
In a clinical trial of 70 healthy children, a propolis mouthwash reduced oral bacteria [R].
In another trial of 30 dental students, propolis-based herbal toothpaste outperformed commercial toothpaste in reducing dental plaque after 2 weeks [R].
Using propolis for dental fillings may be one of the earliest forms of dentistry, dating thousands of years back. Ancient human skeletons with propolis and beeswax dental fillings have been discovered, the oldest one being from Slovenia and dating 6,500 years back [R, R].
Propolis Side Effects
Since there are many types of propolis, the side effects are hard to standardize. Generally, propolis is safe, except for people who are allergic to bees or bee products[R].
One study Italian reported 18 cases of negative reactions to propolis products over 5 years, of which 16 were allergic reactions, 7 were in people allergic to specifically to propolis, and 2 were gut issues [R].
- Propolis blocked specific liver enzymes (CYP1A2) that metabolize many drugs in test tubes. It may increase the blood concentration and toxicity of drugs such as theophylline, acetaminophen, propranolol, and a number of antidepressants (including SSRIs) [R].
- In cells, propolis boosts the effectiveness of antibiotics. It may help fight bacterial infections used alongside antibiotics, but clinical studies would need to attest to this [R, R].
Propolis Supplements and Formulations
Propolis is available in many forms, depending on the intended use:
- Extracts, tinctures, and propolis spray
- Dried powder, usually in capsules
- Raw resinous propolis from the hive
- Syrup for eating, mostly mixed with other extracts or honey
- Propolis for skin: face and hand cream, gel, or ointment
- Propolis shampoo
- Propolis toothpaste
Propolis can be found in most health stores and pharmacies. The extract or tincture form of propolis has been researched the most, though the use of dental and skin formulations is also backed up by studies.
Propolis with Other Bee Products
Propolis, royal jelly, and honey all contain bioactive flavonoids. They are all antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Used together, they can help fight inflammation, viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, speed up wound healing, and protect the heart [R].
The combination of propolis with honey and royal jelly is particularly good for fighting infections [R].
Can you eat Propolis?
Propolis is considered a health supplement, like other bee products. You can eat pure propolis, but it’s typically added to honey as an extract, which improves its taste. Propolis lozenges and chewing gum are also available.
While there is no agreed upon dosage recommendation for propolis, it is considered to be non-toxic and safe except in people with allergies to bee products.
Consumers who purchased propolis from various health and wellness retailers reported positive experiences. They found propolis extracts, capsules, and tablets especially good for boosting the immune system and providing sore throat and sinus congestion relief.
Limitations and Caveats
Despite a long history of use in folk medicine around the world, clinical studies on propolis are limited. Human trials are rare and limited to specific types of propolis, which limits the knowledge about the benefits of other common varieties.