You may associate bees with delicious, sweet, sticky honey and the occasional painful stings… But did you know that these buzzing bugs are also responsible for producing a sticky compound called bee propolis? Rich in flavonoids (a class of antioxidants), bee propolis has long been used for its medicinal properties. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used this glue-like substance to heal wounds–such as abscesses, cuts, and even tumors. Also: Cleopatra was allegedly a huge fan of bee propolis for its skincare benefits.
Your curiosity must be thoroughly piqued by bee propolis by now. To learn what all the buzz is about and how you can reap bee propolis’ benefits for yourself, continue reading.
What Is Bee Propolis? Is It The Same Thing As Honey?
If you put bee propolis and honey together for a side-by-side comparison, you may mistake one for the other as they look so similar. But the two couldn't be more different (1, 2, 3). Bees make honey using the nectar of flowering plants, and it is a source of food for them. On the contrary, propolis is made from a mix of beeswax, saliva, and resin gathered from deciduous trees–and is used as an ‘everyday tool.’
More specifically, bees use this gummy substance in the construction and repair of their hives for sealing cracks and openings–and, perhaps most importantly, as a protective barrier against external invaders (e.g. lizards and snakes) and weathering threats (e.g. wind and rain) (4). Interestingly, bees also use it to embalm dead insects. Think of it as nature’s all-natural cement, if you will. Only… As you’ll see in a while, it’s a lot more useful than just a ‘construction tool.’
Benefits Of Bee Propolis
Impressively, researchers have identified more than 300 compounds in bee propolis. The majority of these compounds are forms of flavonoids–antioxidants that fend off damage and fight disease in the body. As a result, scientists believe that bee propolis has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties (5, 6). In other words: this sticky substance appears to protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi! And research seems to support this. Here's a look at several key findings from the available studies.
Speeds Up Wound Healing
Bee propolis contains a flavonoid, pinocembrin, that has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties–a characteristic that makes it immensely helpful in wound healing. For example, a 2015 study published in the Burns & Trauma journal found that bee propolis can help people with traumatic burns heal faster by speeding up new, healthy cell growth (7). Another 2011 study found that the topical application of propolis alcoholic extract helped reduce mast cells (which are associated with inflammation and slowed wound healing) in oral surgery wounds more effective than a steroid cream (8).
Treats Cold Sores and Genital Herpes
Various studies suggest that bee propolis may help speed healing time and reduce symptoms in cold sores and sores from genital herpes. In a 2010 study published in Phytotherapy Research, researchers found that propolis extracts possess virus-fighting effects that can fight off herpes simplex virus type 1–the virus that causes cold sores (9).
More evidence for bee propolis’ ability to treat cold sores comes from a 2000 study published in Phytomedicine (10). For the 10-day study, researchers randomly assigned the participants with genital herpes to 3 groups: 30 used an ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis; 30 used an ointment containing acyclovir, the remaining used a placebo ointment. The result? The study's authors concluded that the ointment containing flavonoids sourced from propolis was more effective than either acyclovir or the placebo ointment in healing sores related to genital herpes.
Promotes Oral Health
Do dental appointments bring up traumatizing flashbacks of being strapped to a chair while your dentist forcefully pries open your mouth… Then goes to town with a massive drill? If so, then you need bee propolis in your life. It appears that this sticky substance can help fight cavities; in laboratory research, scientists found that compounds found in propolis inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans–oral bacteria that contribute to the development of cavities (11).
Exerts Anti-Cancerous Effects
Arguably, the most promising benefit of propolis is its potential role in treating certain cancers. According to a 2013 study, some of the anti-cancerous effects of bee propolis include keeping cancerous cells from multiplying, reducing the likelihood cells will become cancerous, and blocking pathways that prevent cancer cells from signaling to each other (12). The study also hypothesizes that propolis could be a viable complementary therapy for cancer.
Uses Of Bee Propolis: How To Incorporate It Into Your Daily Routine
With such a long list of benefits to bee propolis, you must be interested in incorporating it into your everyday life whenever possible. This begs the question: How? Because, imaginably, raw propolis is hard to come by. Also, there’s the fact that you’re unlikely to smother yourself with this sticky substance. Don’t worry. There are plenty of propolis-based products that enable you to reap all the substance’s benefits–in a manner that’s convenient for you.
#1 – Propolis Spray
Commercially-available propolis sprays typically contain roughly 90% of pure propolis mixed with vegetable glycerin and purified water. Now, you may be thinking… What is this spray good for? Here’s the answer: you can use it as a type of immune-booster; it can not only prevent illness, but also speed up your recovery when you have a sore throat, cold, or the flu.
Wondering why? Well, remember bee propolis’ antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties? That’s why. Oh, and a bonus: the propolis spray can also help keep your oral health in tip-top condition, as propolis is known to fend off dental cavities. Using the propolis spray is as straightforward as it comes. Just spray into your mouth as and when needed.
#2 – Propolis Toothpaste
If you’re wary of the ingredients found in commercial toothpaste (i.e. fluoride, parabens, phthalates, or anything formaldehyde), then propolis toothpaste could be the perfect natural option. Because of propolis’ antibacterial and antiseptic properties, you can be sure that it’ll protect your mouth and gums from infections and ulcers–in addition to reducing cavities, gingivitis, and plaque build-up (13).
You can use propolis toothpaste as you would a typical toothpaste. That means you should brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. Besides brushing your teeth, you should also remember to floss daily and frequently replace your toothbrush to keep your mouth healthy.
#3 – Propolis Cream
Take a look at skincare products targeted at sensitive skin available on the shelves, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one that doesn't contain propolis. And that's really no surprise because propolis is great for the skin! Propolis ointment (or cream, whichever you prefer) treats and nurtures skin rather than stripping the skin's natural barrier–like many of the topicals on the market can do.
More specifically, propolis can help ease inflammatory redness and pigmentation, treat acne, offer antioxidant protection from environmental aggressors (e.g. pollution, sunlight, and radiation), and aid in wound healing (14, 15, 16). If you're using a propolis ointment to heal cold sores, you should apply it to the affected areas five times a day. Otherwise, simply use it as you would a regular lotion or moisturizer.
#4 – Propolis Tincture
Propolis tincture is typically made using pure, clear, food-grade grain alcohol (e.g. ethanol) to extract the propolis–and then concentrated into at least a 50% solution. Put simply, it’s like a more concentrated version of bee propolis. That means you can use propolis tincture in a multitude of ways; you can ingest it, use it as a mouth wash, and even apply it topically to reduce skin inflammation.
To ingest it: add 20 to 40 drops in water and drink three times daily. To use it as a mouthwash: dilute 40 drops into 20 ml of water and gargle for 20 to 30 seconds whenever needed. And if you're using it topically, simply saturate a cotton pad with the propolis tincture and gently dab at the skin.
#5 – Propolis Supplement
Sneezing. Sniffling. Lots and lots of tissue paper in the bin. It’s almost that time of the year again; your risk of dealing with an unpleasant cold or flu spikes once the days get shorter and the air gets frigid. The good news is, there are plenty of proactive things you can do to keep your immune system healthy, so it fights off any nasty viruses and bacteria floating around in the air. Mainly… It’s making sure you’re staying physically active and getting regular doses of vitamins (e.g. C, D, zinc). But here’s something else that may bolster your immune system: a propolis supplement–because of all its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
And if you’re looking for a suitable propolis supplement? There's no better option than Dr. Danielle’s Bee Wise. This supplement skips all of the refined sugars, artificial colors, fillers, and binders. Just pure, natural ingredients. Oh, and best of all? In addition to propolis, these capsules are also formulated with bee pollen and royal jelly. All the goodness of bee products in one convenient product. What could be better? Nothing.