Yet another reason to celebrate and protect our precious bee friends! We all hear about the benefits of honey, but propolis has equally impressive benefits.
What is Propolis?
Basically it is a resinous, highly medicinal product made by bees – from tree sap, not for food but for building material and medicine. They make propolis by painstakingly gathering the resin from pine bark and other cone-producing evergreen trees. These trees produce the resin as a form of self-defence against infections when they are wounded – like we bleed when we have a cut. The resin is rich in plant compounds called ‘Flavonoids’ which are a bit like the plant’s immune system, protecting them from invaders. Anyway, once the bees have collected this resin, they go back to the hive and mix it with wax and pollen, then the mason bees use this like a cement to seal and to protect the hive from bacteria, viruses and other intruders. Each time a bee enters the hive they brush against a thick mat of propolis which helps to disinfect them and prevent the spread of infection! Bees intrinsically know that the sap from conifer trees offers them protection against disease and studies show that when disease is prevalent in a hive, the bees collect more resin to make more even more propolis.
We now know (thanks to science) that Propolis contains over 300 beneficial compounds, passed on from the conifer trees – to the bees – to us! Nature is remarkable. Of course, the benefits of propolis are nothing new, as we humans have been harnessing the power of bee products for thousands of years now. From the Egyptians to Ancient Greece to Rome. Actually the name ‘Propolis’ itself comes from the Greek meaning “defence of the city.” It was once an official drug in the British Pharmacopoeia (before drugs pushed out all natural remedies because of competition!)
Great as a mouthwash after dental work, for the tmt of peridontitis or as a gargle for throat infections (dilute a few drops in a little water). It is also useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy, where dental problems can be an issue. It may even help to regenerate dental pulp..
Being a resin, Propolis mixes in easily to a base cream for added anti-microbial and skin protective benefits. It can also be mixed into some raw active honey (such as Manuka Honey) and applied topically to wounds, abscesses and mild burns. In one clinical trial it was even found to be effective against antibiotic resistant MRSA infections. Topically it has also been of benefit in viral infections from Herpes to Warts. Oh and not forgetting fungal infections such as thrush and athletes foot. In a world where antibiotic resistance is a real threat, Natural anti-microbials will become more and more important.
Antioxidant and Anti-microbial. Antioxidant basically means that it protects our cells from damage (whether that be electromagnetic radiation, radiation, pollution, damage from pharmaceutical drugs, stress, infection). Anti-microbial means that it helps to combat bacteria, viruses and parasites. This makes it useful a broad range of conditions from colds, flu to parasitic infections (such as giardiasis) to fungal infections and such. Based on recent research, it may help with:
- Healing Stomach Ulcers (alongside other therapeutics).
- Allergic rhinitis, Asthma & Inflammatory Conditions.. seems to act as a natural anti-histamine. Would be good mixed into a little raw honey and consumed daily for this purpose.
- Inflammation: may have promise in the management of autoimmune diseases.
- Cancer: recently the anti-cancer benefits of propolis have been studied. Propolis contains over 300 compounds but one in particular, CAPE (caffeic acid phenethyl ester) is one particular substance in propolis which has received a lot of attention when it comes to the big C. CAPE has been shown to inhibit tumour cell growth, reduce the spread of cancer by inhibiting angiogenesis (the network of blood vessels tumours thrive on), increase apoptosis of cancer cells (causes cancer cells to ‘commit suicide’!) and even alter gene expression. It may also protect the cells against the damaging/toxic effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy (one study revealed protective effects against Tamoxifen, the chemotherapy drug for breast cancer and Methotrexate). Impressive stuff. I’m sure the drug companies are all over it, desperately looking to find a way of extracting a drug version and making $$$ from the trees and the bees!
- Neurodegenerative Diseases and Stroke: may offer some neuroprotective effects against degenerative conditions of the brain and protect against brain cell injury after stroke (according to recent research).
- Regeneration of Bones & Cartilage (speeding up the healing of fractures).
These are just some of the conditions which have been studied recently – there are many more! GreenMedInfo are a fantastic resource for natural remedy research and they have a full page on propolis detailing all the studies, if you want to dig a little deeper. See http://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/bee-propolis
Remember you don’t need to take large quantities to get the benefits. Less if more and just think of all the effort bees go to to make it! Use it with respect. You can take higher doses when you want to treat a specific issue, then scale it back. Some honey suppliers sell honey with propolis added. Or just add a little propolis to your everyday jar of honey for a health boost.
Safety? Humans have safely been consuming Propolis for thousands of years. I think it’s safe to say that it is…. safe!
Remember// there is no such thing as a magic bullet! For many of these conditions, Propolis is a viable and useful addition to a wider treatment plan and this is where a skilled practitioner can guide you. It does not have to be one or the other when it comes to using propolis vs standard medicine or natural remedies. Often they work quite well together.
Where to get Propolis?
Many local bee-keepers will also sell propolis, so ask around. Some go one step further and get their propolis tested for PFL content (Propolis Flavonoid Level) to ensure that their propolis comes up to standard – it has to contain a certain amount of the beneficial Flavonoids. Just google those in your area, but here are a few to get you started:
Comvita www.comvita.co.uk sells a high quality Propolis with a specified PFL content.
Medibee http://www.medibee.co.uk/ Hives in Derbyshire.
Happy Bees https://www.happybees.net/ Raw Honey England
Apitherapy Wellbeing https://www.apitherapywellbeing.co.uk/ sells raw honey, propolis. Norfolk
Honeybeehive http://www.honeybeehive.co.uk/honey/suppliers/ UK local honey suppliers, worth a search for small local bee-keepers.
Also… try to find out where the hives are. Generally hives from natural areas near woodland and hedgerows are better than hives in cities and heavily farmed areas (due to pesticide risk too).
January 10th 2017