What is propolis?
Did you know that honey isn’t the only thing that bees make? Bees also produce a compound called propolis from the sap on needle-leaved trees or evergreens.
Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations used propolis for its medicinal properties. Greeks used it to treat abscesses. Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process. Egyptians used it to embalm mummies.
The composition of propolis can vary depending on the location of the bees and what trees and flowers they have access to.
For example, propolis from Europe won’t have the same chemical makeup as propolis from Brazil. This can make it difficult for researchers to come to general conclusions about its health benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about the purported benefits of propolis, as well as the possible safety risks to consider discussing with a doctor before trying this supplement.
Healing compounds in propolis
Researchers have identified more than 500 compounds in propolis. The majority of these compounds are forms of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that fight disease and damage in the body.
Specifically, propolis contains the polyphenols called flavonoids. Flavonoids are produced in plants as a form of protection. They’re commonly found in foods thought to have antioxidant properties, including:
- Green tea
- Red wine
Propolis also contains other potential healing compounds, such as amino acids, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as minerals such as potassium and magnesium. Other components naturally found in propolis include pollen, wax, and resin.
What the research says
Propolis is thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests that these may translate to the following benefits:
Propolis has a special compound called pinocembrin, a flavonoid that acts as an antifungal. These anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties make propolis helpful in treating wounds, such as burns.
One 2019 review also notes that propolis may help stimulate collagen production in the skin, which could further support wound healing.
Ointments that contain 3% propolis, such as Herstat or Coldsore-FX, may help speed healing time and reduce symptoms of cold sores.
One study found when topical propolis was applied three times a day, it helped to heal cold sores faster than no treatment.
Another 2021 review found that propolis may also help treat mouth and throat infections, as well as dental cavities. Here, researchers suggest that the product’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects could potentially play a role in overall oral health care.
Propolis has been suggested to have a role in treating certain cancers as well. According to one 2021 study propolis may:
- keep cancerous cells from multiplying
- reduce the likelihood cells will become cancerous
- block pathways that keep cancer cells from signaling to each other
- reduce side effects of certain cancer treatments, such chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Researchers also suggested that propolis could be a complementary therapy — but not a sole treatment — for cancer.
Research suggests that some of the anti-oxidative effects of propolis may have potential cardiovascular, neurological, and anti-diabetic benefits.
Polyphenol-rich foods and supplements like propolis may reduce the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. Also, propolis may possibly possess neuroprotective effects against multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. Still, as with other purported benefits of propolis, more research is needed to confirm where such supplements may help prevent neurological disorders.
Additionally, a 2022 review suggests that propolis may also have implications in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that its flavonoids could potentially help control insulin release.
However, it’s unclear whether propolis alone could offer any of the above benefits, and if so, in what doses.
There’s not yet enough evidence to determine whether or not propolis products are safe, and they may cause side effects.
If you have an allergy to honey or bees, you’ll also likely have a reaction to products containing propolis. Propolis may also cause its own allergic reaction when used for a long time. Having pollen allergies may also increase your risk of an allergic reaction to propolis.
Talk with a doctor before adding propolis to your treatment plan, especially if you have existing allergies or asthma.
It’s also important to talk with a doctor if you’re currently taking any medications or other supplements besides propolis.
While one 2022 review discusses the potential enhancement of propolis when combined with certain drugs, such as those used to treat type 2 diabetes or cancer, another 2017 study cautions that the supplement can increase bleeding and possibly interact with medications such as warfarin.
Where to get propolis
Propolis can be purchased in pharmacies or health food stores. Topical forms include creams, ointments, and lotions. Propolis can also be taken orally and comes in tablet, liquid extract, and capsule form.
Currently, there’s no medically recommended dose because more research is needed. Manufacturers may suggest a dose on the product label. Ask a doctor if propolis is safe for you before taking any supplements.