Although honey is perhaps the most famous bee product of interest to human beings, bees also make propolis, another substance that humans have used for thousands of years. Bees coat the hive with propolis in much the same way we use paint and caulking on our homes. People began using propolis more than 2,300 years ago for many purposes, the foremost of which was applying it to wounds to fight infection. It is a resinous compound made primarily from tree sap, and contains biologically active compounds called flavonoids, which come from its plant source. Propolis does indeed have antiseptic properties; the flavonoids in propolis may be responsible for its antimicrobial effects as well as other alleged health benefits.
Propolis is available in a wide assortment of products found in pharmacies and health food stores, including tablets, capsules, powders, extracts, ointments, creams, lotions, and other cosmetics.
Topical propolis ointments, creams, lotions, balms, and extracts are usually applied directly to the area being treated. However, we do not recommend applying bee propolis directly to the eyes (see Safety Issues).
Propolis intended for oral use comes in a wide variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, and extracts. Products vary so much that your best bet is to follow the directions on the label.
Test tube studies have found propolis to be active against a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoans.1-10,47 These findings have been the basis for most propolis research in humans and animals.
A preliminary controlled study found that propolis mouthwash following oral surgery significantly speeded healing time as compared to placebo.12 Propolis extracts may also have value in treatment of severe periodontal disease, according to a study that evaluated the use of propolis extracts as part of an irrigation procedure performed twice weekly by dentists.43
In a pilot study, people with recurrent canker sores were randomized to take 500 mg of propolis capsule or placebo once per day.45 Those in the propolis group reported a decrease in the frequency of canker sore outbreaks, an outcome worthy of additional research according to the study authors.
One group of researchers compared a propolis extract against the standard antiprotozoal drug tinidazole in 138 people infected with the parasite giardiasis.15 The extract appeared to work about as well as the drug therapy.
A number of clinical trials have tested the use of propolis for eye infections 16 and vaginal infections.17 However, these were poorly designed; better trials are necessary before we can say for sure that propolis is an effective treatment for any of these conditions.
One isolated study, published only in abstract form, tested bee propolis in women with mild endometriosis and infertility. Reportedly, researchers found that use of bee propolis at a dose of 500 mg twice daily resulted in a pregnancy rate of 60%, as compared to 20% in the placebo group, a difference that was statistically significant.44 It is not clear why propolis should have this effect.
Finally, test tube studies suggest that propolis has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-preventing properties.19-25,48 Again, without actual human studies, these results suggest the need for future research but do not prove propolis effective for any particular condition.
Propolis is an ingredient commonly consumed in small quantities in honey. Safety studies have found it to be essentially nontoxic when taken orally; propolis also appears to be nonirritating when applied to the skin.26 However, allergic reactions to propolis are relatively common; it is a known "sensitizing agent," meaning it tends to induce allergies to itself when it is taken for an extended time.27-42
1. Brumfitt W, Hamilton-Miller JMT, Franklin I. Antibiotic activity of natural products: 1. Propolis. Microbios. 1990;62:19-22.
2. Burdock GA. Review of the biological properties and toxicity of bee propolis (propolis). Food Chem Toxicol. 1998;36:347-363.
3. Grange JM, Davey RW. Antibacterial properties of propolis (bee glue). J R Soc Med. 1990;83:159-160.
4. Ikeno K, Ikeno T, Miyazawa C. Effects of propolis on dental caries in rats. Caries Res. 1991;25:347-351.
5. Metzner J, Bekemeier H, Paintz P, et al. On the antimicrobial activity of propolis and propolis constituents [in German; English abstract]. Pharmazie. 1979;34:97-102.
6. Scheller S, Tustanowski J, Kurylo B, et al. Biological properties and clinical application of propolis. III. Investigation of the sensitivity of staphylococci isolated from pathological cases to ethanol extract of propolis (EEP). Attempts on inducing resistance in laboratory Staphylococcus strain to EEP. Arzneimittelforschung. 1977;27:1395.
7. Takaisi-Kikuni NB, Schilcher H. Electron microscopic and microcalorimetric investigations of the possible mechanism of the antibacterial action of a defined propolis provenance. Planta Med. 1994;60:222-227.
8. Debiaggi M, Tateo F, Pagani L, et al. Effects of propolis flavonoids on virus infectivity and replication. Microbiologica. 1990;13:207-213.
9. Harish Z, Rubinstein A, Golodner M, et al. Suppression of HIV-1 replication by propolis and its immunoregulatory effect. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1997;23:89-96.
10. Higashi KO, de Castro SL. Propolis extracts are effective against Trypanosoma cruzi and have an impact on its interaction with host cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 1994;43:149-155.
11. Vynograd N, Vynograd I, Sosnowski Z. A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:1-6.
12. Magro Filho O, de Carvalho AC. Topical effect of propolis in the repair of sulcoplasties by the modified Kazanjian technique. Cytological and clinical evaluation. J Nihon Univ Sch Dent. 1994;36:102-111.
13. Magro Filho O, de Carvalho AC. Application of propolis to dental sockets and skin wounds. J Nihon Univ Sch Dent. 1990;32:4-13.
14. Burdock GA. Review of the biological properties and toxicity of bee propolis (propolis). Food Chem Toxicol. 1998;36:347-363.
15. Miyares AC Hollands I, Castaneda C, et al. Clinical trial with a preparation based on propolis "propolisina" in human giardiasis [in Spanish; English abstract]. Acta Gastroenterol Latinoam. 1988;18:195-201.
16. Popescu MP, Palos E, Popescu F. Efficacy of combined biological therapy with bee products in localized palpebral and conjunctival eye lesions with reference to the clinico-functional changes [in Romanian; English abstract]. Rev Chir Oncol Radiol O R L Oftalmol Stomatol Otorinolaringol. 1985;29:53-61.
17. Zawadzki J, Suchy H, Scheller S. Use of propolis for treatment of vaginitis and cervicitis [in Polish; English abstract]. Przegl Lek. 1973;30:620-623.
18. Ikeno K, Ikeno T, Miyazawa C. Effects of propolis on dental caries in rats. Caries Res. 1991;25:347-351.
19. Pascual C, Gonzalez R, Torricella RG. Scavenging action of propolis extract against oxygen radicals. J Ethnopharmacol. 1994;41:9-13.
20. Volpert R, Elstner EF. Interactions of different extracts of propolis with leukocytes and leukocytic enzymes. Arzneimittelforschung. 1996;46:47-51.
21. Khayyal MT, el-Ghazaly MA, el-Khatib AS. Mechanisms involved in the antiinflammatory effect of propolis extract. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1993;19:197-203.
22. Strehl E, Volpert R, Elstner EF. Biochemical activities of propolis-extracts. III. Inhibition of dihydrofolate reductase. Z Naturforsch [C]. 1994;49:39-43.
23. Frenkel K, Wei H, Bhimani R, et al. Inhibition of tumor promoter-mediated processes in mouse skin and bovine lens by caffeic acid phenethyl ester. Cancer Res. 1993;53:1255-1261.
24. Hladon B, Bylka W, Ellnain-Wojtaszek M, et al. In vivo studies on the cytostatic activity of propolis extracts. Arzneimittelforschung. 1980;30:1847-1848.
25. Scheller S, Krol W, Swiacik J, et al. Antitumoral property of ethanolic extract of propolis in mice-bearing Ehrlich carcinoma, as compared to bleomycin. Z Naturforsch [C]. 1989;44:1063-1065.
26. Burdock GA. Review of the biological properties and toxicity of bee propolis (propolis). Food Chem Toxicol. 1998;36:347-363.
27. Blanken R, Koedijk FHJ, Young E. Propolis allergy [in Dutch; English abstract]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 1987;131:1121-1123.
28. Bousquet J, Menardo J-L, Michel F-B. Allergy in beekeepers. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 1982;10:395-398.
29. Camarasa G. Occupational dermatitis from beeswax. Contact Dermatitis. 1975;1:124.
30. Garcia M, Del Pozo MD, Diez J, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis from a beeswax nipple-protective. Contact Dermatitis. 1995;33:440-441.
31. Hausen BM, Wollenweber E, Senff H, et al. Propolis allergy. (II). The sensitizing properties of 1,1-dimethylallyl caffeic acid ester. Contact Dermatitis. 1987;17:171-177.
32. Hay KD, Greig DE. Propolis allergy: a cause of oral mucositis with ulceration. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1990;70:584-586.
33. Melli MC, Giorgini S, Sertoli A. Occupational dermatitis in a bee-keeper. Contact Dermatitis. 1983;9:427-428.
34. Petersen HO. Hypersensitivity to propolis. Contact Dermatitis. 1977;3:278-279.
35. Pincelli C, Motolese A, Pincelli L. Contact dermatitis from propolis. Contact Dermatitis. 1984;11:49.
36. Schuler TM, Frosch PJ. Propolis-induced contact allergy [in German; English abstract]. Hautarzt. 1988;39:139-142.
37. Trevelyan J. Spirit of the beehive. Nurs Times. 1997;93:72-74.
38. Wanscher B. Contact dermatitis from propolis. Br J Dermatol. 1976;94:451-455.
39. Hausen BM, Wollenweber E, Senff H, et al. Propolis allergy. (II). The sensitizing properties of 1,1-dimethylallyl caffeic acid ester. Contact Dermatitis. 1987;17:171-177.
40. Hay KD, Greig DE. Propolis allergy: a cause of oral mucositis with ulceration. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1990;70:584-586.
41. Petersen HO. Hypersensitivity to propolis. Contact Dermatitis. 1977;3:278-279.
42. Trevelyan J. Spirit of the beehive. Nurs Times. 1997;93:72-74.
43. Gebaraa EC, Pustiglioni AN, de Lima LA, et al. Propolis extract as an adjuvant to periodontal treatment. OralHealth Prev Dent. 2005;1:29-35.
44. Ali AFM, Awadallah A. Bee propolis versus placebo in the treatment of infertitily associated with minimal or mild endometriosis: a pilot randomized controlled trial. A modern trend. Fertil Steril. 2003;80 (supp 3):S32.
45. Samet N, Laurent C, Susarla SM, Samet-Rubinsteen N. The effect of bee propolis on recurrent aphthous stomatitis: a pilot study. Clin Oral Investig. 2007;11(2):143-147.
46. Cherniack EP. Bugs as drugs, Part 1: Insects: the "new" alternative medicine for the 21st century? Altern Med Rev. 2010;15(2):124-135.
47. Boukraâ L, Sulaiman SA. Rediscovering the antibiotics of the hive. Recent Pat Antiinfect Drug Discov. 2009;4(3):206-213.
48. Khalil ML. Biological activity of bee propolis in health and disease. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2006;7(1):22-31.
As of 6/20/2011, additional research published on bee propolis does not warrant any changes to this article.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 9/18/2014
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