Propolis A Remarkable, Natural Immune Stimulant

Nature has provided bees with a substance that keeps them and their hives free of germs, in spite of 40,000 to 60,000 bees being crammed into close quarters in the hive. This protective substance is called propolis, which is a name derived from two Greek words meaning defenses before a town. The bees place propolis near the opening of the hive to sterilize anything entering it; they also use propolis to embalm or mummify the carcasses of larger animals that have invaded the hive, but that are too large for the bees to remove. Propolis helps sterilize the hive to inhibit the spread of bacteria, viruses and fungi that would be a significant threat in such a humid, crowded environment.

Bees do not make propolis--they gather it from trees. Propolis is a mixture of many compounds including resins, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, high amounts of bioflavonoids, and the anti-bacterial substance galangin.(1)

Anti-Infective Properties of Propolis
Propolis has been used for wound-healing for thousands of years. During World Wars I and II, soldiers used propolis to prevent their wounds from becoming infected and to speed the healing process. The early research work on propolis was mostly done in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, consisting of highly technical laboratory studies as well as controlled clinical trials. Laboratory tests showed that propolis on its own is effective against over 20 kinds of bacteria.(1) Clinical studies from the former Soviet Union,(2) Romania,(3) and China,(4) demonstrated that propolis was effective against various kinds of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Dr. Kravcuk of Kiev found that propolis was effective against sore throats and dry coughs in 90% of 260 patients.(5) A recent study by Serkedjieva, et al, showed that the active ingredients in propolis significantly inhibited the Hong Kong flu virus.(6) Therefore, propolis might be a good agent to prevent and treat the common cold and flu. Recent studies also show that propolis is effective against the herpes simplex virus.(7,8)

The antibacterial properties of propolis appear to be due to multiple mechanisms. Drs. Takaisi-Kikuni and Schilcher found that propolis: 1) inhibits bacterial growth by preventing cell division; 2) disorganizes bacterial cytoplasm, cell membranes, and cell walls; 3) causes partial bacteriolysis; and 4) inhibits protein synthesis.(9) No prescription antibiotic acts in so complex a manner as propolis. Additionally, a unique advantage of propolis is that it enhances the effectiveness of antibiotics such as penicillin and streptomycin.(1,10) The combination of propolis with antibiotics can reduce drug dosages, minimize drug side effects, and decrease chances of drug resistance.

Propolis and Immune Enhancement
Propolis also stimulates the bodys immune system. Dr. Remy Chauvin of Paris, France, comments, Propolis healing mechanism is due not only to its antibacterial properties and detoxifying effects, but also by increasing the defensive reaction of the organism. Propolis works by raising the bodys natural resistance to infections by stimulating ones own immune system.(11) Propolis significantly activates macrophages, which play an important role in infection prevention.(12) In addition, it can significantly inhibit lipoxygenase activity, thereby inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis.(13) Strehl, et al confirmed that propolis has anti-inflammatory effects.(14)

Propolis in the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer
One of the most exciting recent findings on propolis is its efficacy in cancer prevention and treatment. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), one of the active ingredients in propolis, has been shown to prevent cancer formation in animal models.(15) It also showed strong cancer inhibitory effects against several cancers.(16,17) Propolis inhibits cancer cell growth by increasing the process of apoptosis (programmed cell death, the process our body uses to get rid of old, useless cells).(18,19) Propolis can significantly decrease the heart toxicity of doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent used in cancer treatment.(20)


Other Uses of Propolis
Dr. Franz K. Feiks of the Public Hospital at Klosterneuberg, in Austria, reported that propolis is also effective against ulcers. In a clinical study involving 294 patients, Dr. Feiks found that 90% of 108 ulcer patients given propolis were free of symptoms after two weeks, compared to only 55% of 186 conventionally treated patients.(21) Dr. Feiks also noticed that 70% of the propolis group obtained relief in three days, compared to only 10% of the group receiving conventional medication. Propolis also appears to be effective in the treatment of severe acne.(1)

No side effects have been reported for propolis. The LD50 (the dose causing half of the tested animals to die) for propolis is 7.34 g/Kg body weight in mice. Thats close to 50 gm of propolis for a 160 pound person.(22) Also, propolis is non-irritating,(22) and is thereby safe for topical use. Although a very small percentage of the population may be allergic to propolis, as Susan Smith Jones commented in her book Lets Live, Bee propolis has been around for 40 million years! Thats a reasonable testing period.(21)

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1. Hill R. Propolis, The Natural Antibiotic. Thorsons, Wellingborough, England, 1977.

2. Tsarev NI, Petrik EV, Aleksandrova VI. Use of propolis in the treatment of local suppurative infection. Vestn Khir, 134 (5): 119-122, 1985.

3. Esanu V. Recent Advances in the chemotherapy of herpes virus infections. Virologie, 32 (1): 57-77, 1981.

4. Pang JF and Chen SS. Treatment of oral leukoplakia with propolis: Report of 45 cases. Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih, 5 (8): 452-453 and 485-486, 1985.

5. Kravcuk P. Doctoral Dissertation. Kiev Univ., USSR, 1971.

6. Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, and Bankova V. Anti-influenza virus effect of some propolis constituents and their analogues (esters of substituted cinnamic acids). J. Natl. Prod., 55 (3): 294-302, 1992.

7. Amoros M, Lurton E, Boustie J, Girre L, Sauvager F, and Cormier M. Comparison of the anti-herpes simplex virus activities of propolis and 3-methyl -but-2-enyl caffeate. J. Natl. Prod., 57 (5): 644-647, 1994.

8. Dumitrescu M, E sanu, and Cri san I. The mechanisms of the antiherpetic action of aqueous propolis extracts. I. The antioxidant action on human fibroblast cultures. Rev. Roum. Virol., 43: 3-4 and 165-173, 1992.

9. Takaisi-Kikuni NB and Schilcher H. Electron microscopic and microcalorimetric investigations of the possible mechanism of the antibacterial action of a defined propolis provenance. Planta Med., 60 (3): 222-227, 1994.

10. Krol W, Schelleer S, Shani J, Pietsz G, and Czuba Z. Synergistic effect of ethanolic extract of propolis and antibiotics on the growth of staphylococcus aureus. Arzneimittelforschung, 43 (5): 607-609, 1993.

11. Churchill R. American Chiropractor, 34-38, January/February 1980.

12. Dim V, Ivanovska N, Bankova V, and Popov S. Immunomodulatory action of propolis: IV. Prophylactic activity against gram-negative infections and adjuvant effect of the water-soluble derivative. Vaccine, 10 (12): 817-823, 1992.

13. Sudina GF, Mirzoeva OK, Pushkareva MA, Korshunova GA, Sumbatyan NV, and Varfolomeev SD. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester as a lipoxygenase inhibitor with antioxidant properties. FEBS Lett., 329: 1-2, 21-24, 1993.

14. Strehl E, Volpert R, and Elstner EF. Biochemical activities of propolis -extracts. III. Inhibition of dihydrofolate reductase. Z Naturfosch [C], 49: 1-2, 39 -43, 1994.

15. Rao CV, Desai D, Kaul B, Amin S, and Reddy BS. Effect of caffeic acid esters on carcinogen-induced mutagenicity and human colon adenocarcinoma cell growth. Chem. Biol. Interact., 84 (3): 277-90, 1992.

16. Rao CV, Desai D, Rivenson A, Simi B, Amin S, and Reddy BS. Chemoprevention of colon carcinogenesis by phenylethyl-3-methylcaffeate. Cancer Res., 55 (11): 2310-2315, 1995.

17. Guarini L, Su ZZ, Zucker S, Lin J, Grunberger D, and Fisher PB. Growth inhibition and modulation of antigenic phenotype in human melanoma and glioblastoma multiform cells by caffecic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE). Cell Mol. Biol., 38 (5): 513-527, 1992.

18. Su ZZ, Lin J, Prewett M, Goldstein NI, and Fisher PB. Apoptosis the selective toxicity of caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) toward oncogene -transformed rat embryo fibroblast cells. Anticancer Res., 15 (5B): 1841-1848, 1995.

19. Chiao C, Carothers AM, Grunberger D, Solomon G, Preston GA, and Barrett JC. Apoptosis and altered redox state induced by caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) in transformed rat fibroblast cells. Cancer Res., 55 (16): 3576-3583, 1995.

20. Chopra S, Pillai KK, Husain SZ, and Giri DK. Propolis protects against doxorubicin-induced myocardiopathy in rats. Exp. Mol. Pathol., 62 (3): 190-198, 1995.

21. Jones S. Lets Live. 112-118, 1979.

22. Arvouet-Grand A, Lejeune B, Bastide P, Pourrat A, Privat AM, and Legret P. Propolis extract. I. Acute toxicity and determination of acute primary cutaneous irritation index. J. Pharm. Belg., 48 (3): 165-170, 1993.

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