Bee Propolis

December 14, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Propolis isn’t nearly as well known as honey. In fact, it serves no culinary purpose in the human food chain. However, for bees, it plays an essential role in building and maintaining beehives by acting as a glue of sorts. It is also commonly employed as an ingredient in many natural cold and flu remedies. I was recently reminded of this while visiting a number of integrative pharmacies throughout France. But popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to efficacy or safety. One of the questions I sought to answer upon returning to the US was scientific evidence to support the modern and traditional use of bee propolis.

There are a few facts about propolis that are incontrovertible. Propolis is scientifically documented as having germicidal properties. Preliminary research conducted mostly in animal models reveals that select extracts of this bee-derived resin can, in fact, antagonize influenza and various other viral offenders. In vitro testing using human samples goes on to reveal that propolis may also possess immune-enhancing properties that are sparked by causing a temporary inflammatory response. (1,2,3,4,5)

What most researchers and scientists look for when evaluating natural remedies are studies conducted in human populations. Several medical publications on propolis and upper respiratory infections are available for review. The only double-blind, placebo-controlled study I discovered evaluated the preventive effects of a supplement containing a combination of echinacea, propolis and Vitamin C. The 12 week intervention involving 430 young children determined that the youngsters receiving the supplement were 55% less likely to suffer from “illness episodes”. The primary flaw with respect to my line of inquiry is that it’s impossible to know whether the purported benefits are due to the echinacea, propolis or Vitamin C component of the natural medicine in question. It could even be that a synergistic effect accounted for the positive findings. (6)

Compounds Responsible for the Activity of Different Propolis Types

Propolis Type Antibacterial Activity Antiinflammatory Activity Antitumor Activity Hepatoprotective Activity Antioxidant Activity
European (poplar type) Flavanones, flavones, phenolic acids and their esters Flavanones, flavones, phenolic acids and their esters Caffeic acid, phenethyl ester Caffeic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid their esters Flavonoids, phenolic and their esters
Brazilian (Baccharis type) Prenylated p-coumaric acid, labdane diterpenes Unidentified Prenylated p-coumaric acids, clerodane diterpenes, benzofuranes Prenylated p-coumaric acid, flavonoids, lignans, caffeoyl quinic acids Prenylated p-coumaric acid, flavonoids
Cuban Prenylated benzophenones Not tested Prenylated benzophenones Unidentified Prenylated benzophenones
Taiwanese Not tested Not tested Prenylated flavanones Not tested Prenylated flavanones
Source: Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 March; 2(1): 29–32. (link)

The remaining studies present new and similar problems when attempting to evaluate them. For instance, a trial from June 2010 reports that a propolis solution can effectively reduce the need for antibiotic treatment in children aged 1 to 5 with chronic ear infections. The product used was well tolerated and lead to a significant reduction in disease recurrence. However, as with the prior mentioned study, the supplement contained another potentially therapeutic ingredient: zinc. Two other published papers document that propolis can: a) safely stimulate the immune system in healthy young adults; b) shorten the duration of common cold symptoms. According to the researchers of the latter study – “In the therapeutic group the symptoms lasted 2.5 times shorter than in the placebo”. Unfortunately, this particular publication only provides a brief overview of the results of the trial. Precise details are not included in the abstract and the full text is in Polish. (7,8,9)

A recent review in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology provides an opinion shared by many integrative health authorities. It states that there is a considerable amount of preliminary evidence suggesting that propolis may affect health in numerous positive ways including activity against allergies, cancer, diabetes, infections and ulcers. But at the moment most of the promise remains in the realm of animal and test tube research. In my opinion, more controlled experiments in humans are needed before any widespread recommendation can be made about the use of propolis in the population at large. There are even scant reports of mild-to-serious side effects that need to be quantified in order to determine the long term safety of this natural remedy. So for the time being, I think I’ll rely on other natural options that have a stronger track record. And I will, of course, keep an eye out for any upcoming data that may change my mind. (10,11,12)

Be well!

JP

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7 Comments & Updates to “Bee Propolis”

  1. Yasimine Says:

    Hi,

    I just wanted to share this with you so that perhaps the next time you conduct a study on bee proprolis:

    Recently, I’ve visited China’s Bee Propolis factory and they are currently conducting a study on the effect of a combination of: Bee Propolis and Cordycept (not sure if i spell it right) experiment for cures of: colds, fight off bacterial infections, ulcers, and even applying it to combating cholestrol, diabetes, etc….and much much more.

    They believe that applying the combination of the two and taking it for straight three years will provide protection for the human body against viral and other long term dieases such as diabetes and cholestrol.

    But I am skeptical and wonder if a combination of these two might have a positive effect such as viral infection, diabetes, cholestrol and much much more.

  2. Vadim Says:

    Hey buddy, I missed your menu blog. Are you still planning on writing there? Also, are you still on interminent fasting plan?

  3. JP Says:

    Yasimine,

    Thank you for sharing that information. I’d be interested in reading the findings of the experiment you’ve detailed. There’s a great deal of scientific interest in cordyceps. But much like propolis, it would be very helpful to have more human data to work with. Hopefully that will come in time.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1211/jpp.61.03.0002/abstract

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Good day, Vadim.

    I haven’t posted there for some time due to a scarcity of time.

    I stopped (alternate day) fasting about a month again after losing about 15 lbs in 50 days. I can’t afford to lose any more weight! However, it was a very positive experience that I plan to incorporate it into my routine every once in awhile.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Oliver Says:

    This is great info on propolis. It’s an under used herb that has really only gotten any real use from the Chinese. I’d also be interested in the research when it comes out. It is also interesting to see how the Chinese always look at these natural medicines in combination. Its really very different to analyze how two herbs function together then a single herb. This is called Dui Yao in Chinese medicine. Great thread guys!

  6. Bozo Says:

    Hi!

    There is one think which has to be known about propolis. There were many clinical studies conducted in 60-80, mainly in Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. I have books with references, results and name of authors, unfortunately not full papers.
    If you search on PubMed and put limit 60-80, you’ll see title of articles. They were performing experiments on children, adults, female, man. Indications were, sore trough, pneumonia, tuberculosis, ulcers, colitis, cancers, and many other conditions. They even found leathal dose in animals with i.v. application.
    I always wondered why that stopped, but the reason is very obvious – the government finance all projects and when crises started and then SSSR fall apart, everything stopped.
    Now, there is a pharmaceutical trend to find an active substance from propolis, but that is another story. When companies recognise potential in developing propolis, more than supplement, there will be new clinical trials.

    Regards from Croatia

  7. JP Says:

    Updated 03/14/17:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28285617

    J Integr Med. 2017 Mar;15(2):124-134.

    Effects of bee propolis supplementation on glycemic control, lipid profile and insulin resistance indices in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Propolis, a natural resinous substance made by bees from material extracted from plants, flowers and bee’s wax, has shown great therapeutic effects and been widely used in food and drug industries. Recently, some researchers have studied the effect of this substance in the treatment of diabetes.

    OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this trial was to determine the effect of bee propolis on glycemic control, serum lipid profile and insulin resistance indices in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

    DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS AND INTERVENTIONS: This randomized clinical trial involved 66 patients with T2D, which were randomly divided into two groups of intervention (IG) and placebo (PG). IG received 300 mg three times a day for a total of 900 mg/d of propolis pills, while PG received similar pills, lacking propolis, on the same schedule for 12 weeks.

    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Fasting blood glucose (FBG), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), triglyceride (TG), serum insulin and insulin resistance indices were the main outcome measures.

    RESULTS: The mean change in FBG between the IG ((17.76 ± 27.72) mg/dL decrease) and the PG ((6.48 ± 42.77) mg/dL increase) was significantly different (P = 0.01). Change in mean HbA1c had a similar pattern to FBG. The mean change in TC between the IG ((5.16 ± 43.80) mg/dL increase) and the PG ((28.9 ± 27.4) mg/dL increase) was also significantly different (P = 0.01), showing the protective role of propolis against the increase in TC. The change in mean LDL was similar to mean TC. There was no significant difference in other lipids or insulin resistance indices between the two groups.

    CONCLUSION: Based on this study, the daily intake of 900 mg of bee propolis supplement for 12 weeks results in improvement of glycemic and some serum lipid levels in patients with T2D.

    Be well!

    JP

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