Propolis: the Natural Antibiotic
Copyright (c) 2008 Ruth Tan
Propolis is a natural antibiotic that is fast gaining in popularity in the application of home remedies! It’s one of those bee products that really cause me to wow at the wonder of nature and marvel at the ability of the highly organised insect – honey bee. Now, let me tell you the fascinating story of propolis.
Some trees and conifers produce sticky resins as part of their immune system to defend themselves against disease. Honey bees collect these substances that ooze from the buds of these plants. After chewing them and mixing them with their saliva and other substances, propolis is formed. This nutrient-rich substance is of vital importance for the survival of the honey bees in the beehive. It is created to sterilize the hive and protect it against diseases and infection. Not only does it help to inhibit the spread of bacteria, virus, and fungi that would otherwise pose a significant threat in the closely-knit quarters, it also and help fight against climatic changes, such as wind and cold. It is also used as a “putty” to seal cracks and openings in the hive and to strengthen and repair honeycombs, and for this reason is also known as ‘bee glue’. Another fact that amazes me is that honey bees also use this sticky substance to embalm or “mummify” the carcasses of larger insects that invade the hive. Such intruders are immediately stung to death but because the defending bees can’t transport such heavy corpse away from the hive, they embalm them rather than allowing them to decay. The ancient Eygptians observed this and used propolis as one of the embalming agents for their exquisite mummies!
Propolis contains approximately 50-70% resins, 30% wax, 10% etheric oils and 5% pollen. It is especially rich in amino acids, important for immune system function. It has a high vitamin content (Vitamin A (carotene), Vitamin B1, B2, B3, biotin) and is extremely rich in bioflavonoids (Vitamin P) which are believed to have numerous immune building properties and health benefits. Bioflavonoids are the natural pigments in fruits and vegetables and are found in abundance in oranges. This bee glue contains almost 500 times more bioflavonoids than is found in oranges! It also contains an array of albumin, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Like Royal Jelly and Bee Pollen, it contains a number of unidentified compounds which work together synergistically to create a balanced, nutritive substance.
Propolis can be purchased completely raw and unprocessed, but it in its natural state is a sticky substance and is very difficult to handle. Some beekeepers will package it raw and freeze it in small portions. It can then be added to a coffee grinder in its frozen state and ground for easy consumption. Most producers utilize a process where the active ingredients are ‘leached’ into water or alcohol, then either packaged in liquid form or dried and capsulated.
Because of its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, this precious substance has been used as a natural cure and healing agent for many centuries. It has the ability to provide protection against infectious invaders, promote healing and regeneration of tissue, and provides a superior source of energy and stamina. It has been used as ointments for healing cuts and wounds and shown to have outstanding value for a wide variety of illnesses. It is also used as a natural alternative to penicillin and other antibiotics. It is said to be particularly safe and effective and inhibits the resistance-building effect that is a negative factor with prescription antibiotics. In the former Eastern Bloc countries, antibiotics have never been widely available, but beekeeping is widely practised. To help prevent many diseases, hospitals and clinics recommended washing, gargling or irrigating the sinuses with this natural antibiotic rinse, as well as taking it orally. This bee product is certainly a good weapon against bacteria when used topically. It can clearly prevent infections, and can also help heal infections that have already begun.
Do you know that now even toothpastes contain natural ingredients related to honey bees? Propolis has become a healthy alternative to synthetic brands of toothpastes as it is especially useful in mouth and gum disorders. Our mouth is one of the most sensitive spots of our body. This is the place where the synesthesia of senses starts and the food we visualize develops its full smell and taste. The mouth is the starting point of the food digestion. A healthy mouth cavity is certainly one of the elements contributing to the appetite and good mood in general. If the mouth develops sore spots, thrush or gum disease, it causes the whole system to disrupt, resulting in pain and tormenting feeling. Published clinical research demonstrates that propolis fights bacteria, prevents tooth decay, heals bleeding gums, and prevents gums receding and bad breath. Manufacturers of these toothpastes and mouth sprays claim that their products leave teeth clean, gums feeling healthy, taste great without artificial ingredients, and produce no negative side effects. The salesperson at a honey shop which I often frequent explained that such toothpastes are very suitable for young children’s use as even if it’s accidentally swallowed, it’s extremely safe. Such products are easily applied, and have increasingly become part of the everyday dental hygiene of people who are especially interested in natural remedies. My latest discovery while shopping for honey products : propolis extract now even comes in the form of sprays and candies. The spray claims that it is effective against flu, cuts, burns, gum and mouth infections, throat discomforsts and intestinal discomfort, while the candy is sold as a good therapeutic substitute to the traditional throat lozenges and an aid to curing flu, colds, throat discomfort, cough and bad breath.
Note of Caution: Propolis is generally non-toxic, though allergic reactions such as skin rashes, swelling, redness, eczema or fever have been reported. As the effects of propolis during pregnancy and breast-feeding have not been sufficiently evaluated, women should not use it during these times unless directed to do so by a physician.