What is Propolis and why bees make it?
This resinous substance is gathered from the buds or limbs of some trees. It is brittle in cold weather but so sticky in the warm weather that the workers apply it immediately to stop up cracks inside the hive to keep out the wind and rain, to reduce too large an entrance way, and to strengthen the combs at their juncture with the walls of the hive. Sometimes little critters like a field mouse will come into a hive as the weather gets cold. The bees will sting it to death and then seal up the corpse ( much like a mummy is wrapped up ) with the propolis.
Propolis is often called "bee glue." It is the sticky resin that seeps from the buds of some trees and oozes from the bark of others. The trees that produce this resin are mainly conifers, which are evergreens that produce cones. Bees seem to prefer the resin from the poplar tree. There are only a few propolis-gathering experts in each hive. Bees of foraging age collect propolis only on warm days when the resin is soft and pliable. As the resin is gathered, it is blended with wax flakes secreted from special glands on the abdomen of the bee. The mixture is then kneaded or molded into a tiny ball and placed into the pollen baskets located on the legs of the bee. When the source is exhausted she flies to another area to gather until her pollen baskets are full.
It may take an hour to fill her baskets. The same procedure is used in reverse when she takes her load back to the hive where the receiving bees help unload and store the substance. This procedure can take several hours.
Propolis is used to reduce the size of the entrance and to patch up holes or cracks. It is also used as an antiseptic, lining each cell and the interior of the hive. If another insect enters the hive, it is promptly killed and removed. If the body is too large to remove, it is covered with propolis to keep its contaminants from harming the hive.
Contents in Propolis
Scientists state that at least part of this can be attributed to the galangin, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid components. Other known components of propolis include: 55% balsam and resinous compounds, 30% beeswax, 10% ethereal and aromatic oils, 5% pollen, plus flavonoids, cinnamic acid, cinnamyl alcohol, vanillin, caffeic acid, tetochrysin, isalpinin, pinocembrin, chrysin, galangin, and ferulic acid. Propolis is said to have 500 times more flavonoids than the average orange.
Bee Propolis in old history: propolis has been around for over 40 million years and has been used by man both internally and externally as a healing agent even before the time of Christ. Propolis was first used as folk medicine from the day of Aristotle ( which is around 350 BC). Apart from that, others believe it was first used by Egyptian priest doctor who started using it as medicine after first utilizing it successfully for mummification. Later on, propolis were also mentioned in Arabs, Greeks and Roman medical treatises during the late 19th century. Equivalent to today's medical journals, these treatises talk about using propolis for treating infection, skin diseases, respiratory and joint problems. The Greeks were known to use it for abscesses while the Assyrians used it to heal wounds and possibly tumors. In Europe and North Africa, propolis have been used for treating wound, caries and all forms of mouth or throat infections.
Categories of Propolis
Pliny, the Elder (79-23 BC) divided propolis into three categories: 1) commosis - referring to its use as a disinfectant; 2) pissoceros - referring to its use as a structural reinforcement; 3) propolis -referring to the reduction of the entrance to the bee's city or "polis." Pliny also describes the medicinal action of propolis on humans in the reduction of swelling, the soothing of pain, and the healing of open sores.
It is reported that the renowned Stradivarius (1644-1737 AD) handmixed his own propolis varnish to polish his handcrafted instruments. Having made only 1,116 stringed instruments, no one has ever been able to duplicate his workmanship or his recipe for this varnish.
Modern History: when modern synthetic drugs were introduced and antibiotic was gaining popularity, the use of natural products like propolis dropped significantly. It was only in China and Eastern Europe ( countries like Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and old Yugoslavia) that medical research were conducted on bee propolis. The medical community in the West only took notice in the 1960s and 1970s after the works of Dr. Aagard Lund in Denmark and Dr. Remy Chauvin in France was published - outlining the benefits of propolis to health. Starting from that point on, modern researches have been trying to extract that special ingredients in propolis that is beneficial for our health. Modern scientists were trying to do the same thing that they had done to medicinal plants. Isolate the chemicals that is beneficial, and throw away the others . Fortunately, they just couldn't do it to propolis. It appears that you need to take whole propolis to get it's health benefits. When an extracted ingredient is used, the effect is not as good as the whole propolis. So, at the moment, nature wins. To get the medicinal benefit from this resin, you have to use whole propolis. The combined and synergistic effects of propolis are proved to be better than any single ingredients extracted from it.Apart from that, these scientific researches have also concluded that is not a toxic substance - meaning it is safe to be used by human. However, it has a few side effects, mainly affecting those who are already allergic to bees or bee products.
The propolis samples considered in for study, aged or fresh, had similar qualitative composition, although they were collected in different periods. Samples only differed in their levels of total phenolic content. Moreover, aged propolis conserves significant radical scavenging and antimicrobial properties. We suggest that aged propolis should not be discarded but explored for alternative applications.
How hard it is to make proplis?
50 thousand bees can produce only 5 grams of propolis. Thus, it used to be a special medicine reserved only for queens and emperors. To make simple, we can think of propolis as bee's own medicine. It is a mixture of various resins collected by the honeybees from plants - particularly from flowers, leaf buds and the bark of trees.
Let's see how medical science conforms ancient wisdom.
Improving Immne System: Professor S. Scheuller, the head of a team of four doctors at the Institute for Microbiology at the Medical Academy in Poland found that propolis is able to stimulate the immune system. It stimulates the formation of antibodies to build body resistance to many diseases. It also helps the body in releasing substance against cellular deterioration. He also concluded that other propolis health benefits may include improved physical, intellectual and sexual performance and makes injured tissue heal faster. The study also concluded that propolis is non toxic.
Increase Fertility: One isolated study had tested the benefit of propolis on women with infertility and endometriosis. The study indicated that consumption of 500mg of propolis twice daily resulted in pregnancy rate of 60% as opposed to 20% for women not given propolis. It is still unclear how propolis would give this effect.
Potential Cancer Drug: A report published in the Cancer Research (Sep 15,93;53 1482-88) stated that caffeic acids in propolis might help prevent colon cancer. The article described how these caffeic acids were able to prevent the formation of pre cancerous tissues in rats after the animal were exposed to cancer causing chemicals. Another study done in 1990 showed propolis chemicals to act against ovary cancer in hamster and sarcoma-type tumors in mice.
Dental care: Another benefit of bee propolis is in dental care. Propolis mouthwash used after an oral surgery appears to shorten the healing time. A study done in 1991 showed that rats given propolis in their drinking water got less caries compared to other rats. Another study done in 1986 proposed propolis as a valuable subsidiary treatment for gum infection and plague. It is also used in dental surgery as natural and safe disinfectant.
Improve Antibiotic Effectiveness: Australian scientists, E.L Ghisalberti of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Western Australia showed that propolis increases the effectiveness of penicillin or other antibiotics from 10 to 100 folds. The combination of these drugs and propolis can cause the drug dosage to be trimmed down.This discovery is hoped to help reduce the number of side effects associated with antibiotics and lower the over dependency on antibiotics by doctors.
Protecting Liver: Two studies done in 1986 and 1987 showed that another benefits of propolis is in protecting liver. It was shown to be effective in protecting liver against alcohol and tetrachloride.
Bowel Problems: Propolis can also benefit patients suffering from inflammatory bowel problems like Chron's disease and ulceration colitis. In June 2001, Dr. Ralph Golan reported how ulceration colitis responded well to propolis therapy. This was reported in his article published in Townsend Letters For Doctors.
Veterinary Applications: propolis offers some benefits to breeders by improving weight gain and reduce diarrhea in their animals. A study done in 1987 showed that 5 ml of propolis solution given to milk-fed calves archived the above results. Studies done to rabbits have also showed that propolis treated coccidiosis and eimeria. It also is beneficial in treating mastitis.
Other medical benefits of propolis
Studies done in rats and mice had shown that concentrated propolis given to the animals reduces blood pressure, produces sedative effect as well as protects the liver and stomach against tetrachloride and ulcers.All these were achieved without any side effects.
How safe is it?
In general, propolis is safe. It is a non toxic substance and for most people, will not caused irritation when used as supplements or applied to skin.
Who can be allergic to Propolis?
Those already allergic to Pollen or evergreens, you are advised not to use propolis; Asthma Patients; Allergic To Bee Stings, Pregnant Women; Others at risk: If you know that you're allergic to black poplar (also populas nigra), poplar buds, honey and balsam of Peru, avoid propolis as well.
Will propolis interact with other drugs?
At the moment there is no detrimental interaction between pure propolis and other man-made drugs. However, we advise you to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what drugs you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals before using or taking any products containing propolis. ( we also suggest the use of Drug Interaction Checker to check the potential side effects of 2 drugs taken together - note: it loads very slowly) .So far the only well documented studies on propolis and it's effect on other drugs is on it's ability to improve the effect of antibiotics by 10 to 100 folds.Another study involving more than 400 Israeli children also showed that a commercial combination product containing propolis, echinacea, and vitamin C helped not only to shorten and lessen the severity of colds and other infections of the respiratory tract, but was able to prevent them in some cases.
Medicinal uses of Propolis
During the Boer War (1888-1902 AD), propolis was mixed with petroleum jelly and used successfully to disinfect wounds. Before the days of antibiotics, propolis was used most often to combat infections. More recently, it has shown to be effective against bacteria resistant to penicillin, ampicillin, methicillin, streptomycin, chloramphenicaol, oxytetracycline, erythromycin, and sulfathiazole. It is also effective against E.coli and salmonella.
Used with alcohol, propolis has removed molds and fungi more efficiently and for a longer period of time than standard remedies. Propolis has antiseptic, antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.Propolis had an effect on reducing dental plaque.
Subgingival delivery of Indian propolis extract showed promising results as an adjunct to scaling and root planing in patients with chronic periodontitis when assessed by clinical and microbiological parameters.
Osteoporosis (OP) is a common bone disease, which adversely affects life quality. Effective treatments are necessary to combat both the loss and fracture of bone. Recent studies indicated that caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) is a natural chemical compound from honeybee propolis which is capable of attenuating osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption.