Propolis is a resinous substance that bees collect from tree buds. Rich in flavonoids (a class of antioxidants, propolis has a long history of use as a natural treatment for a host of health problems.
Found in small quantities in honey, propolis is widely available in supplement form. Propolis is also used as an ingredient in certain medicinal products applied directly to the skin, such as ointments and creams. In addition, propolis is sometimes found in nasal sprays and throat sprays, as well as in mouthwash and toothpaste.
Benefits of Propolis
Although few clinical trials have tested the health effects of propolis, there's some evidence that propolis may offer certain benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available studies:
1) Cold Sores
Preliminary research suggests that topically applying propolis may help heal cold sores. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010, for example, scientists found that extracts of propolis possess virus-fighting effects that may help knock out against herpes simplex virus type 1 (the virus that causes cold sores).
2) Genital Herpes
Applying a propolis-based ointment may help treat sores related to genital herpes, according to a study published in Phytomedicine in 2000. For the 10-day study, 90 men and women with genital herpes used an ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis, an ointment containing acyclovir (a drug used to reduce pain and speed healing of herpes-related sores), or a placebo ointment.
By the study's end, 24 out of the 30 participants in the propolis group had healed (compared to 14 out of 30 in the acyclovir group and 12 out of 30 in the placebo group). Given this finding, the study's authors concluded that an ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis may be more effective than both acyclovir and placebo ointments in healing sores related to genital herpes.
Propolis may promote the healing of minor burns, according to a 2002 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. For the study, researchers compared the effects of a propolis-based skin cream with those of silver sulfadiazene (a drug commonly used in treatment of second- and third-degree burns) in patients with second-degree burns. Study results showed that propolis and silver sulfadiazene were similarly effective in treatment of burns. What's more, propolis appeared to offer greater anti-inflammatory benefits than silver sulfadiazene did.
Propolis may help fight cavities, a 2003 study from Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin shows. In laboratory research, scientists found that compounds found in propolis helped inhibit the growth of mutans streptococci (an oral bacteria known to contribute to the development of cavities). The study suggests that propolis may also help stop mutans streptococci from sticking to the teeth.
Findings from animal-based research indicate that propolis may aid in the treatment of diabetes. In a 2005 study published in Pharmological Research, for example, tests on diabetic rats revealed that treatment with propolis helped lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol.
Why Do People Use Propolis?
Propolis is touted as a natural treatment for the following health problems and conditions:
- bacterial infections
- canker sores
- cold sores
- peptic ulcer disease
In addition, propolis is said to stimulate the immune system and prevent tooth decay.
Propolis shouldn't be applied to the eye area. There's also some concern that repeated use of propolis may make people more prone to developing allergies.
Where To Find Propolis
Propolis is available many forms, including tablet, capsule, powder, extract, and lozenge. When used topically, it's found in ointments, creams, lotions, and other personal-care products. Widely available for purchase online, products containing propolis are sold in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in dietary supplements.
Duarte S, Koo H, Bowen WH, Hayacibara MF, Cury JA, Ikegaki M, Rosalen PL. "Effect of a novel type of propolis and its chemical fractions on glucosyltransferases and on growth and adherence of mutans streptococci." Biol Pharm Bull. 2003 Apr;26(4):527-31.
Fuliang HU, Hepburn HR, Xuan H, Chen M, Daya S, Radloff SE. "Effects of propolis on blood glucose, blood lipid and free radicals in rats with diabetes mellitus." Pharmacol Res. 2005 Feb;51(2):147-52.
Gregory SR, Piccolo N, Piccolo MT, Piccolo MS, Heggers JP. "Comparison of propolis skin cream to silver sulfadiazine: a naturopathic alternative to antibiotics in treatment of minor burns." J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Feb;8(1):77-83.
Schnitzler P, Neuner A, Nolkemper S, Zundel C, Nowack H, Sensch KH, Reichling J. "Antiviral activity and mode of action of propolis extracts and selected compounds." Phytother Res. 2010 Jan;24 Suppl 1:S20-8.
Viuda-Martos M, Ruiz-Navajas Y, Fernández-López J, Pérez-Alvarez JA. "Functional properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly." J Food Sci. 2008 Nov;73(9):R117-24.
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 (HSV)." Phytomedicine. 2000 Mar;7(1):1-6.