Research carried out in the laboratory shows that bee propolis has a broad range of biological activities, including antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer effects (Biol Pharm Bull, 2009; 32: 1244-50). Indeed, a recent study of Brown Cuban propolis, the major type of propolis from bees in Cuba, found that it significantly inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells (Nat Prod Commun, 2009; 4: 1711-6).
The real test, however, is to determine whether or not propolis is effective in proper randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials.
Nevertheless, so far, what evidence there is suggests that propolis may be useful for the following conditions.
o Dental disorders
Propolis has proved successful against a raft of dental problems, ranging from plaque and cavities to gum disease and mouth ulcers. In one study carried out in Brazil, patients used a water-and-alcohol-based, propolis-containing mouth-wash for 45 days after oral surgery. The researchers concluded that it not only supported the repair of surgical wounds, but also had effective painkilling and anti-inflammatory effects (J Nihon Univ Sch Dent, 1994; 36: 102-11).
More recently, propolis gel was shown to be an effective treatment for denture stomatitis, a chronic condition characterized by palatal oedema and redness, which can be caused by a fungal infection (in particular, Candida albicans) as well as bacterial infection, mechanical irritation and allergy (Phytother Res, 2008; 22: 1544-7). Added to toothpaste, propolis can prevent periodontal (gum) disease and reduce plaque formation, as well as have an anti-inflammatory effect (Folia Med [Plovdiv], 2001; 43: 28-30).
o Skin problems
Propolis has also been used in an ointment to effectively treat skin infections such as genital herpes (caused by herpes simplex virus type 2) (Phytomedicine, 2000; 7: 1-6). More recently, the remedy was tested in a three-month trial of 135 patients who had different kinds of warts. Compared with those treated with either Echin-acea or a placebo, the cure rate in the propolis group was signifi-cantly better. Altogether, 75 and 73 per cent of those treated with propolis were able to be rid of their plane and common warts, respectively, at the end of the trial (Int J Dermatol, 2009; 48: 1246-9).
In yet another study, a propolis skin cream demonstrated beneficial effects on the healing of partial-thickness burns wounds. In these patients, the antimicrobial activity was similar to that of standard treatment using silver sulphadiazine. However, the wounds treated with propolis consistently showed less inflammation and more rapid healing (scar formation) (J Altern Comple-ment Med, 2002; 8: 77-83).
In a preliminary study of 40 women with infertility and mild endometriosis, supplementation with propolis (500 mg twice a day for six months) was associated with a pregnancy rate of 60 per cent compared with a rate of 20 per cent in those taking a placebo (Fertil Steril, 2003; 80 [Suppl 3]: S32). Although the mechanism of action remains unknown, the inhibition of aromatase, an enzyme that is involved in oestrogen metabolism, might explain these results (Townsend Lett, 2004; 249: 30).
o The common cold
In a study carried out in Poland, 50 ear-nose-throat patients who were treated with propolis had common-cold symptoms for only one to three days' duration compared with the nearly five days among those who took a placebo (Otolaryngol Pol, 1989; 43: 180-4).
In another trial carried out in Romania, preschool and school-age children were given a water-based preparation of propolis (Nivcrisol) throughout the entire colds season. It was found that these children had fewer cases of acute or chronic symptoms, as well as a decrease in the numbers of disease-causing microorganisms carried in their upper airways (Rom J Virol, 1995; 46: 115-33).
o Rheumatic disease
In a placebo-controlled trial of 190 patients in Hungary, two propolis treatments were tested: purified propolis and propolis saturated with anti-inflammatory trace metals, respectively applied locally and by iontophoresis (where the affected joints are immersed in a conductive metallic-ion solution that allows the transmission of a tiny electrical charge). The results showed that symptoms such as pain and inflammation were significantly improved, especially with the latter form of propolis treatment (Orv Hetil, 1996; 137: 1365-70).
The bottom line
It appears that human trials of bee propolis are promising and, when considered together with the hundreds of test-tube and animal studies using the natural remedy, they suggest that propolis may well be an alternative product with a vast potential for improving human health.
However, well-designed studies are lacking, and more research is needed before it can be determined whether or not propolis is effective for any particular health condition.
Furthermore, it's not possible to know whether the propolis products on offer in shops and online can actually provide the same benefits as those seen in clinical trials. As usual, this means that you should always do your homework before buying and go with a reputable brand.
WDDTY VOL. 21 ISSUE 4