Both you and your patients are no doubt quite aware of the health benefits that can be derived from bee products such as pollen and honey.
Bee pollen has been shown to treat any number of conditions, including stomach ulcers, inflammation, symptoms of menopause and stress. It also can improve liver health, work as an anti-oxidant, speed up healing, and boost the immune system.1
Raw honey also has a number of health properties, including: Antioxidants; hydrogen peroxide to fight various types of infections, and heal wounds (particularly Manuka honey); and anti-inflammatories in the form of phyto-nutrients.2
The type of honey that is usually available in supermarkets has been heated to improve the color and texture, which unfortunately also removes all the health benefits. However, there has been some interesting research into another bee product, known as propolis, which can provide similar health benefits to raw honey.
What is it, and what are the health benefits that it offers?
What is propolis?
Propolis, also known as bee glue, is a mixture of bee saliva, beeswax, and various plant materials, such as plant buds, wax, and sap.3 The resinous material is used to seal up small, unwanted spaces within the hives. Sealing up these spaces helps improve hive stability, reduces noise, and prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi inside the hive. It can also make the hive more defensible by sealing off extra entrances from invaders. The color and composition of the propolis will vary, depending upon the local plant life. It will also be harder and more brittle at colder temperatures, and stickier at warmer temperatures.3 In some cases, bees have even used caulk if they were unable to find suitable plant material.
What does the research say?
Antioxidant effects: Polyphenols are structural chemicals that form large phenols, or units.4 Such chemicals can be natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic. These polyphenols have a number of beneficial antioxidants that may help protect the body against a number of diseases, including neurodegenerative (such as Alzheimer’s) and cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Several studies have compared polyphenol levels from propolis samples across different regions around the world. While all the propolis samples contained polyphenols, the samples from regions with greater polyphenol levels appeared to have a stronger antioxidant effect.4
Anti-inflammatory effects: The body has an inflammatory response to either damage to the body tissue (acute inflammation) or constant exposure to environmental stimuli (chronic inflammation).4 Once the tissue is damaged, the body sends a series of chemical responses to repair the damage, by using immune system cells. However, if the body does not fully heal following the injury, acute inflammation can become chronic, such as in asthma or COPD.4Several studies have used natural or synthesized propolis from different regions to determine which compounds and mechanisms produced these anti-inflammatory effects. Both CAPE and PEE were among the most common compounds.4
Antibacterial effects: Propolis’ antibacterial effects may be its best-known quality.4 It is thought to inhibit bacterial motility and enzyme activity and can kill bacteria in high concentrations. This is particularly interesting, in terms of the current rise of antibiotic-resistant infections. Some research has even shown that propolis can be used with antibiotics to improve their effectiveness, which may help overcome the problem of antibiotic-resistant infections.4
Obviously, if your patients have severe allergies to any bee products, they should not be taking propolis. However, if they are able to do so, propolis can be a fine all-purpose supplement that provides a number of important health benefits.
- Llnskens HF, Jorde W. (1997). Pollen as food and medicine: A review. Economic Botany, 51, 78.
- Top 6 raw honey benefits. Accessed 11/9/2017.
- Wikipedia. Accessed 11/9/2017.
- Silva-Carvalho R, Baltazar F, Almeida-Aguiar C. (2015). Propolis: A complex natural product with a plethora of biological activities that can be explored for drug development. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 206439.