If you’re like most people, chances are, you’re immediately bolting down the street the moment you hear the buzzing of a beehive. And that’s no surprise. One can’t exactly describe the experience of getting stung by a bee as fun, after all; it hurts–and in the worst-case scenario, could be fatal if you're allergic to bees (1, 2, 3, 4). As such, the only word you associate with bees is highly likely to be 'annoying.' But here's something you've never thought possible: what if bees could prove beneficial to your health? What if, instead of just being tagged as a pest in your mind... You could think of these little insects as lifesavers?
In a state of disbelief? Well, this article might just convince you otherwise. Continue reading to find out how a bee-derived ingredient–known as bee propolis–can help you fend off and support all kinds of unwanted health conditions.
What Is Bee Propolis?
Bee propolis is a resinous-like mixture that bees produce by combining their saliva, beeswax, and various other substances they collect from tree buds, sap flows, and other botanical sources (5, 6, 7). Fun fact: bees use propolis as a type of ‘cement’ for building, repairing, and protecting their hives against predators, like snakes and lizards, for example. Bees don’t just use this sticky, glue-like substance as a sealing agent. Because of bee propolis’ antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, they also use it to sterilize and disinfect the colony by mummifying any carcasses (be it of bees or dead intruders) with propolis. Impressive, isn’t it (8, 9)?
What Is Propolis Good For?
But how is this must-have for bees helpful to humans? Bee Propolis has actually been used for centuries by humans.
Ancient Uses Of Bee Propolis
Just so you know, our ancestors have been using bee propolis long before modern science discovered the potential benefits. The use of this naturally-produced, sticky substance is said to date back to the time of Aristotle (circa 350 B.C.). The ancient Greeks and Assyrians used it for wound- and tumor-healing, while the Ancient Egyptians were known to have used it in their mummification process (10).
And as it turns out, recent research has begun to prove our ancestors right. Multiple studies have shown evidence of the numerous applications bee propolis–and its extracts–have in treating various diseases due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, antiulcer, anticancer, and immunomodulatory properties (11).
#1 – Speeds up wound healing
Wounds don’t heal overnight, of course. But as you’ve probably realized, caring for your wounds can be a hassle. Not only do you need to keep the wound covered, but you also have to change the dressing frequently. Thankfully, for all who've wished for some way to speed up the wound-healing process, there's propolis. Because of a particular compound called pinocembrin (a flavonoid), propolis is known to exert anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, proving immensely helpful in wound healing (12, 13, 14, 15). A 2015 study published in Burns & Trauma found that the topical application of propolis (i.e. in the form of an ointment or cream) can help individuals who have had traumatic burns heal faster by speeding up new healthy cell growth (16).
And if you’re still struggling with pimples, you’re bound to fall in love with another one of propolis’ benefits for the skin: it helps ease inflammatory redness and pigmentation (17). Researchers have even found it to be a promising natural remedy that can replace synthetic antibiotics in acne treatment (18)!
#2 – Promotes oral health
Cavities–also known as dental caries or tooth decay–can happen to the best of us, and they make themselves known in any number of irritating and painful ways, including toothaches, sensitivity or pain, and even discoloration (19, 20). Whatever it is, they're not pleasant. And if you're always worried about having to make a trip down to the dentist… Meet, propolis toothpaste.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Natural Science involving 30 dental students, researchers found that a propolis-based herbal toothpaste outperformed commercial toothpaste in reducing dental plaque after 2 weeks (21). Also, in a clinical trial on 30 healthy children, it was found that chewing gums with propolis reduced the salivary counts of Streptococcus mutans, an oral bacteria known to contribute to the development of cavities (22).
#3 – May prevent the common cold and sore throats
There is also evidence that propolis extracts may naturally prevent (as well as shorten the duration of) the common cold–which is most often associated with the much-dreaded sore throat. For example: a clinical trial published in the Journal of Virology administered an aqueous propolis extract to a group of young children for the entire duration of a year's 'cold season' and found that the children treated with propolis fell ill to fewer colds with acute or chronic symptoms (23).
#4 – Reduces the symptoms of cold sores and genital herpes
It’s always a nasty surprise to wake up to a cluster of tiny, fluid-filled blisters on and around your lips. These are cold sores (24, 25). To make matters worse, these are not just an eyesore–the blisters can actually break to form what are essentially wounds on your face! Not fun. Luckily, it appears that the topical application of propolis might help speed healing time and reduce symptoms in both cold sores and sores from genital herpes. A 2016 study, for example, found that the topical application of propolis helped speed up the healing of cold sores faster than no treatment (26). Similarly, a 2019 study found that applying lipstick with propolis was more effective than acyclovir in a clinical trial on almost 200 participants with cold sores (27).
And perhaps most promising is the finding that propolis can help stop both HSV-1 and HSV-2 (i.e. the causes of herpes infections on the mouth and lips, commonly known as cold sores) from reproducing–at least, according to test-tube studies (28, 29, 30).
#5 – Exerts anti-cancerous effects
Interestingly, propolis has been suggested to be a viable treatment for certain cancers as well. According to a 2013 study, it appears that the naturally-produced substance can keep cancerous cells from multiplying, reduce the likelihood cells that will become cancerous, and block pathways that keep cancer cells from signaling to each other (31). That said, it should still be noted that the researchers think propolis could be a complementary therapy–instead of the only treatment–for cancer.
Is Propolis Better Than Honey?
Given the long list of health benefits that bee propolis brings about, you may now be curious about the scoopful of honey you've been adding into your morning tea–is that beneficial to your health, too? In other words: is there a need to forsake one for the other? The answer is, you don't have to.
Honey is, in and of itself, recognized worldwide due to its high nutritive components that are beneficial for human well-being (32, 33, 34). It is an effective remedy for cough, sore throat, and earaches, for example. And perhaps more impressively, studies have also shown the effectiveness of honey as a treatment for wounds, insect bites, burns, skin disorders, sores, and boils. Of course, the above-listed health benefits are far from comprehensive; honey still exerts many therapeutic effects similar to bee propolis. Ultimately, one thing is sure: both bee propolis and honey are incredible, natural remedies. You should incorporate both of them into your diet whenever possible.
How To Extract Good-Quality Bee Propolis
You must be raring to grab the first beehive you come across–and just extract all the bee propolis you can get your hands on by now. But wait. Not so fast. Extracting raw propolis from a beehive can be dangerous, especially if you don't know what you're looking out for.
Bottom line? You should leave the extraction to the experts, who’d typically extract propolis by immersion into food-grade ethanol or other solvents according to its purpose of use (35, 36). That said, ethanol is definitely preferred for the highest-quality extract. And after a couple of weeks, the extract is ready and should be filtered through a clean and fine cloth; the finished propolis tincture will be a clear liquid, free of particles, and slightly reddish. This finished tincture can be taken as needed. You can add a few drops into your drink or onto a snack, even, to harness all the health benefits propolis can provide.
Not a big fan of the bitter taste the propolis tincture adds to whatever you drip it on? Well, don’t despair–you can still incorporate all the goodness propolis has to offer. You can do so with Dr. Danielle Bee Wise, which combines bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly to support your health and well-being. No nasty taste. Just pure benefits, in capsule form.