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Science about Propolis

It wasn't until the 1950's that scientists, with the help of new analytical techniques, began to isolate the important components of propolis and show that it provides many benefits to humans.
At least 180 different compounds have been identified so far in propolis. A list of the major chemicals occurring in propolis is given in the following table (Krell, 1996):

Class of Compound Group of Components Amount
Resins flavonoids, phenolic acids and esters 45-55%
Waxes and
Fatty Acids
beeswax and plant origin 25-35%
Essential Oils volatiles 10%
Pollen proteins (16 free amino acids >1%), arginine and proline together 46% of total 5%
Other Organics
and Minerals
14 trace minerals, iron and zinc most common;ketones, lactones, quinones, steroids, benzoic acid, vitamins, sugars 5%

The most important pharmacologically active constituents in propolis are the flavones, flavonols, and flavanones (collectively called flavonoids), and various phenolics and aromatics. Flavonoids play a major role in plant pigmentation.

Flavonoids are thought to account for much of the biological activity in propolis (Grange and Davey, 1990). At least 38 flavonoids have been found in propolis, including galangin, kaempferol, quercetin, pinocembrin, pinostrobin and pinobanksin (Schmidt and Buchmann, 1992). Some of the phenolics include cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamic acid, vanillin, benzyl alcohol, benzoic acid, and caffeic and ferulic acid.

The chemical composition of propolis is highly variable because of the broad range of plants visited by honey bees when collecting the substance. Crane (1990) identifies at least 67 species from which honey bees have been reported to collect propolis material. Important sources include poplars, alders and birches, chestnut, ash, various Prunus and willows. Variations in the beeswax content of raw propolis also affect the chemical composition.

The plant species available in a geographic area determine the kinds and amounts of important compounds present in propolis. A recent study of New Zealand propolis found that the important dihydrofavonoids pinobanksin and pinocembrin made up approximately 70% of the flavonoids in the samples analysed (Markham, et al, 1996). A similar study of Brazilian, Uruguayan and Chinese samples showed dihydroflavonoids to comprise less than 10% in all but one sample, which had 50%.
Dihydroflavonoids, like those found in propolis, have been shown to aid the human body in absorbing Vitamin C (Bors, et al, 1995).

Studies indicate that the plant resins collected by bees are at least partially altered by bees prior to use in the hive (Cuellar et al, 1990). The presence of sugars also suggest some metabolising by bees (Greenaway et al, 1987).

It has only been in the last twenty years that scientists have been able to prove that Propolis is as active and important as our forefathers thought.
Propolis is now considered an important part of dietetics and a natural cure by the World Health Organization.

Its popularity is ever increasing, due to its many possibilities. The concentrations of flavonoids seem to be responsible for the great antibiotic effects of Propolis. Flavonoids possess many potent curative effects. Forty-one of these substances have been recognized by science.
Chemical analysis of Propolis show that it is extremely complex. Propolis is a rich source of minerals, vitamins C, E, provitamin A, and B-Complex. Along with a selection of amino acids, fats, trace minerals such as copper, iron, manganese and zinc as well as bioflavonoids.

The published work on propolis, mostly from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, consists of highly technical laboratory studies, along with largely anecdotal clinical reports, usually of treatment for infections. Apparently there has not been a major effort to prove the effectiveness of propolis with controlled clinical trials, as is done with new drug products from Western pharmaceutical companies. Such trials would be expensive, and it is hard to see a motive for them in countries where physicians and lay persons alike already use the treatment as part of traditional practice. Nor would a U.S. pharmaceutical company be likely to spend the millions of dollars required to gain marketing approval under our system of medicine, for a product already cheaply available through the health-products industry. So propolis simply dropped out of the U.S. medical system. Only the patients might have cared, and they have had no voice for systematic research or advocacy on such matters.

Some of the more interesting clinical studies of propolis are a Soviet report on its use with 460 patients with infections (Tsarev and others, 1985), and a Romanian paper on promising herpes treatments (Esanu, 1981), which mentioned propolis, garlic, and marine algae as promising antivirals. Other reports concerned propolis for treatment of various conditions, including 45 cases of oral leukoplakia, probably not AIDS related, in China (Pang and Chen, 1985).

Propolis is given to patients in Russia before and after surgery to aid in healing and prevent infection, and to boost energy levels during the recovery process. It is often mixed with garlic to make a powerful infection fighter, killing viruses and bacterial invaders without harming the beneficial bacteria needed by the body to function properly.

Unlike penicillin or other drugs, propolis is always effective, because bacteria and viruses cannot build tolerances against it. This has been clinically verified after its use in more than 16,000 situations.
Danish scientist, Dr. K. Lund Aagaard, considered an expert on propolis states ,"The whole research program had a single purpose, namely, to obtain a substance with the greatest efficiency against the greatest number of diseases. The numerous healings are relevant by themselves and the number of people who use propolis is ever increasing."

"Propolis is antiseptic, anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-microbial.
There are currently no manufactured drugs that fight a virus, but Propolis has antiviral properties
" (H.W.Schmidt, M.D. German Medical Association)

Recently, Cuba opened a multi-million dollar facility dedicated to the scientific study of propolis and the other products from the beehive.

From experience gained in South Africa and Israel, propolis is effective in the treatment of children with "Creche Syndrome"(click) and recurrent Upper and lower respiratory infections. Children treated with this formulation (Propolis Kid) as preventive have shown better resistance to respiratory infections which reduces absenteeism from schools and nursery schools.

For information on propolis use in the U.S. we asked a well-known herbalist, Ed Smith. He sells propolis (among other products), and described it as a very strong antifungal. He said that quality varies, as there are no marketing standards, although most of the products are good or excellent. Propolis also varies depending on the area from which it comes, because the bees gather resin from whatever kinds of trees are available.