The Bees’ Best-Kept Secret: The Amazing Health Benefits of Propolis

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By Lindsay Christensen

Bees are an absolutely essential part of life on earth. The most important role bees play is in the process of pollination, by which they assist in the transport of pollen between plants, allowing the plants to reproduce. The small size of these special insects belies their incredible efficiency as pollinators. Animals and insects such as bees are responsible for pollinating 30% of the world’s food crops, and 90% of wild plants!1 The honey bee (Apis mellifera), was introduced by European settlers to North America.2 This species of bee assists in the pollination of numerous flowering plants, including many plants that humans use for food. By participating in pollination, honey bees contribute to biodiversity of plant life, and also to human survival. Without their pollination efforts, many of our staple foods simply could not exist!

While honey bees’ claim to fame is their crucial role in pollination, these special insects also produce certain health-promoting substances that are of great use to humans. Many people have heard of the health benefits of consuming real raw honey – it has been found to boost the immune system, speed wound healing when applied topically, and combat certain infections.3 However, in this post I would like to talk about a lesser-known, but no less beneficial substance produced by bees – propolis.

What is Propolis?

Propolis is a resinous substance produced by honey bees when they mix their saliva and beeswax with nectar or sap from plant sources such as flowers and tree buds. The resulting mixture serves as a sort of “glue” that the bees use for sealing open spaces in their beehive. Chemical analysis of propolis has revealed that it is composed of more than 300 different chemical compounds, a number of which have been found to be beneficial for human health. Flavonoids, terpenes, and essential oils are several examples of compounds in propolis that may offer significant health-promoting effects.

All together, the various compounds in propolis pack quite a punch when it comes to promoting health! Propolis has antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium responsible for causing staph infections, as well as against E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, both of which can cause disease in humans. In addition to its antibacterial effects, propolis also has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-ulcer, and antioxidant properties.4  

Historically, propolis was used by the Incas to reduce fever, by the Greeks and Romans as a mouth disinfectant and antibiotic for wound treatment, by the British in the 17th century as a medicine, and during World War II by the Soviets as a treatment for tuberculosis. Currently, propolis is used as a natural medicine for upper respiratory tract infections, the common cold, the flu, wound healing, acne, and skin infections. Investigations are also being carried out on the potential use of propolis as a treatment for asthma and allergies.5  This is quite an extensive and impressive resume for propolis!

I personally became interested in propolis after hearing about yet another benefit it has to offer, as an antifungal agent. Fascinatingly, propolis has also been found to exert very strong antifungal activity!6  In fact, researchers have discovered that bees “self-medicate” themselves against fungal infection by lining their hives with propolis!7

As a strong antifungal, propolis has the ability to kill fungi such as Candida albicans, which is attributed with causing yeast infections both on the skin and within the digestive tract. Propolis has also demonstrated an ability to kill other types of fungi such as Trichosporon asahii, which is responsible for causing a very serious fungal illness called Trichosporonosis. The antifungal properties of propolis indicate its value as a supplement for those suffering from fungal illnesses, and even toxic mold exposure. In fact, the antifungal activity of propolis has been the most important health benefit it has offered me. Propolis has become a staple supplement in my personal health protocol.

A little bit about me and why I am so interested in propolis – I developed a “mystery” chronic illness when I was 19 years old and was very ill for several years, until I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease at age 22. However, Lyme disease treatment alone did not make me better. It took me two more years to reach a diagnosis of mold-induced illness – I had been exposed to a number of environments containing toxic mold in my young adulthood, and it was believed that this exposure, along with Lyme disease, was what had made me so sick. Propolis has been a key player in my recovery from the mold-induced part of my illness, because it is such a strong antifungal. I have taken propolis in a tincture form, as a nasal spray, as an aerosol via a nebulizer, and I also use a special little machine to diffuse propolis in my apartment. The various propolis treatments have significantly reduced the sinus inflammation I developed as a result of toxic mold exposure, and I feel like I can breathe better than I have in years! I also feel that it is quite effective at reducing inflammation in my body, and it has helped improve my allergies. As a bonus, propolis smells wonderful! It is truly a pleasure to have it diffused through the air in my living spaces at home.
 
If you are suffering from any sort of bacterial or fungal infection, I highly recommend looking into adding propolis to your treatment protocol. Now that you are in on the bees’ “best kept secret,” use it to your advantage! You might be surprised by just how great an effect propolis could have on your health! 
 
References

1. Sass J. (2011). Why we need bees: Nature’s tiny workers put food on our tables. National Resource Defense Council. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/bees.pdf.

2. Moisset B & Buchmann S. (2011). Bee basics: An introduction to our native bees. USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership Publication. Retrieved from http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5306468.pdf.

3. Eteraf-Oskouei T & Najafi M. (2013). Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: A review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 16(6): 731-742. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758027/.

4. Viuda-Martos M, Ruiz-Navajas Y, Fernandez-Lopez J, Perez-Alvarez JA. (2008). Functional properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly. J Food Sci. 73(9): R117-R124. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19021816.

5. Wagh VD. (2013). Propolis: A wonder bees product and its pharmacological potentials. Adv Pharmacol Sci [online]. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872021/.

6. Ota C, Unterkircher C, Fantinato V, & Shimizu MT. (2001). Antifungal activity of propolis on different species of Candida. Mycoses. 44(9-10): 375-378. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11766101.

7. Simone-Finstrom MD & Spivak M. (2012). Increased Resin Collection after Parasite Challenge: A Case of Self-Medication in Honey Bees? PLOS One [online]. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0034601


About the author: Lindsay has her Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Science, with an Emphasis in Nutrition, from National University of Health Sciences. When she is not studying nutrition or researching and writing, Lindsay enjoys working out, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, and having adventures outdoors. She is also quite passionate about her camera and taking nature photography. You can read more about Lindsay’s Lyme disease experience, as well read all her latest thoughts and research on health, by visiting her blog, Rock On Nutrition, at https://rockonnutrition.me/

 

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