What is Propolis?
Propolis has been around for over 40 million years and has been used by man both internally and externally even before the time of Christ as a healing agent.
Originated from the Greek word, "PRO", meaning "in defense of" and "POLIS" meaning "city", bee propolis extract is now considered an important part of dietetics and a natural cure by the World Health Organization.
Simply, we can think of propolis as bees' own medicine.
It is a mixture of various amounts of resins collected by the honeybees from plants - particularly from flowers, leaf buds and the bark of trees.
Carried on their back legs, bees use propolis as some sort of natural cement to strengthen and seal cracks in their hives.
The Need for Protection
Just imagine living in a super crowded apartment, sharing it with other 50,000 living beings. The apartment is so small, it's hard for you even to get in or out of your home. It's like making a crowded Tokyo subway your home.
If you're living in such a tight space, you know that you need a strong structure to hold the busy units, but more importantly you also need a way to keep the whole apartment clean and free of bacteria. Just one "unclean" occupant can bring massive disease outbreak in the whole kingdom.
This is what it feels like living in a bee hive. These bees must find a way to avoid bacterial and viral infection from spreading in their congested home. Without some kind of antibiotics protection, the whole colony could be dead.
Propolis as God sent Protection
Luckily for these bees, nature provides them with a solution. What they do is collect the substance that trees use to protect itself from infection and use it in their homes.
Certain trees like poplar, willow, birch and horse chestnut produce a special antibiotic sap to protect it from infection. Bees gather these saps, took it back to their hives and coat their hives the with it, in much the same way we use to paint and caulk our home.
It will seal, line and strengthen the hives. The best thing is that when they brush against these brownish substance, the honey bees become immunized.
That special substance is what we now call propolis, a term coined by the Greek to mean "Defender of the City".
What’s in Bee Propolis?
Chemically, propolis is exceedingly complex. Flavonoids are abundant in propolis. Apart from that you will also find kaempferol, apigenin, pinocembrin, galangin, luteolin, pinostrobin and quercitin, all of which are anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antioxidant and/or antimutagenic.
Propolis is also rich in the caffeic acid phenethyl ester. This is a substance that was shown to inhibited cancer growth and reduced inflammation studies done to animals.
Bee propolis also contains organic acids and their derivatives as well as terpenoids. These constituents contribute antibiotic, anti fungal and antiviral effects.
About Propolis Antibacterial and Antiviral Effects
There is an interesting difference between propolis's antibacterial property compared to an antibiotics.
Antibiotics works by killing bacteria in our body, That includes those "friendly" ones needed by the body. Among the friendly bacteria killed by antibiotics are bacteria responsible in helping the body produce vitamins like B and K. The more antibiotics you use, the more friendly bacteria will you kill.
At the end of the day, you might be deficient in those vitamins, not mentioning other vast side effects you will get from prolong use of antibiotics.
On the other hand, propolis raise the body's natural resistance by stimulating one's own immune system. It will also add certain vitamin like B1, B, C, E and essential minerals including iron, aluminum, manganese and silicon to the body.
Thus, scientist have tried to combine antibiotics and propolis to get the best of both worlds. They found that addition of propolis to antibiotics increases the effect of the drug from 10 to 100 folds.
Health benefits of Propolis
Although the fact that propolis has been used for thousands of years may be enough to convince people on propolis benefits, we dig scientific journals to satisfy some skeptics.
Let's see how medical science conforms ancient wisdom.
Improving Immune System
Professor S. Scheller, the head of a team of four doctors at the Institute for Microbiology at the Medical Academy in Poland found that propolis is able to stimulate the immune system.
It stimulates the formation of antibodies to build body resistance to many diseases. It also help the body in releasing substance against cellular deterioration.
He also concluded that other propolis health benefits may include improved physical , intellectual and sexual performance and makes injured tissue heal faster.
The study also found that propolis is non toxic.
Another benefits of propolis is in treating second degree burns. Research showed that propolis cream gave about the same result as currently prescribed cream.
However, propolis cream reduce patient's inflammation and lead to a faster healing.
Various studies have confirmed that propolis stimulates enzyme systems, cell metabolism, circulation, collagen formation and improved healing of burn wounds.
It is believe to be a result of a substance called arginine.
One isolated study had tested the benefit of propolis on women with infertility and endometriosis. The study indicated that consumption of 500mg of propolis twice daily resulted in pregnancy rate of 60% as opposed to 20% for women not given propolis.
It is still unclear how propolis would give this effect.
Potential Cancer Drug
A report published in the Cancer Research (Sep 15,93;53 1482-88) stated that caffeic acids in propolis might help prevent colon cancer. The article described how these caffeic acids were able to prevent the formation of pre cancerous tissues in rats after the animal were exposed to cancer causing chemicals.
Another study done in 1990 showed propolis chemicals to act against ovary cancer in hamster and sarcoma-type tumors in mice.
Propolis can also benefit patients suffering from inflammatory bowel problems like Chron's disease and ulceration colitis.
In June 2001, Dr. Ralph Golan reported how ulceration colitis responded well to propolis therapy. This was reported in his article published in Townsend Letters For Doctors.
Another benefit of bee propolis is in dental care. Propolis mouthwash used after an oral surgery appears to shorten the healing time. A study done in 1991 showed that rats given propolis in their drinking water got less caries compared to other rats.
Another study done in 1986 proposed propolis as a valuable subsidiary treatment for gum infection and plague.
It is also used in dental surgery as natural and safe disinfectant.
Two studies done in 1986 and 1987 showed that another benefits of propolis is in protecting liver. It was shown to be effective in protecting liver against alcohol and tetrachloride.
Improve Antibiotic Effectiveness
Australian scientists, E.L Ghisalberti of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Western Australia showed that propolis increases the effectiveness of penicillin or other antibiotics from 10 to 100 folds.
The combination of these drugs and propolis can cause the drug dosage to be trimmed down. In conclusion, this discovery will will cause less side effects of antibiotics and lower the over dependency on antibiotics by doctors.
Propolis offers some benefits to breeders by improving weight gain and reduce diarrhea in their animals.
A study done in 1987 showed that 5 ml of propolis solution given to milk-fed calves archived the above results.
Studies done to rabbits have also showed that propolis treated coccidiosis and eimeria. It also is beneficial in treating mastitis.
Other medical benefits of propolis
Studies done in rats and mice showed that concentrated propolis given to the animals reduces blood pressure, produces sedative effect, protects the liver and stomach against tetrachloride and ulcers. All these are achieved without any side effects.