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
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.
The results of a small controlled study suggests that propolis cream might cause attacks of
genital herpes to heal faster.11
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.
In one study, rats given propolis in their drinking water developed fewer
cavities than rats given regular water.18
However, no human studies have been performed to see if we would also benefit.
also suggest that topical propolis may be of benefit in healing
One group of researchers compared a propolis extract against the standard antiprotozoal drug tinidazole in 138 people infected with the parasite
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
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
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
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
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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
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