Propolis obtained from beehives is touted as a treatment for numerous ailments – the common cold, peptic ulcers, coughs, tuberculosis, toothaches, cold sores (those wounds that usually “grow” at mouth corners and we attribute them to malaria), genital herpes, as well as nose and throat cancer.
It is also said that it can be used in the treatment of burns and wounds and where it is used, it quickens healing. But can propolis be used to effectively treat the above-mentioned disease conditions? What are the health benefits of propolis?
Dr Grace Nambatya, director of research at Natural Chemotherapeutics Laboratory, ministry of Health, says because propolis is a “natural antibiotic, it can be used anywhere where there is bacteria”. She lists conditions such as cough, peptic ulcers and tooth infections as those that can be treated with “formulations containing propolis”.
Other than being a natural antibiotic, propolis has been shown to possess antiseptic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to always have a bottle handy in your medicine cabinet.
According to the health information website, nlm.nih.gov, propolis is more effective in the treatment of recurrent genital herpes (caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 2) than conventional treatment, because it is thought, it possesses antiviral properties.
The same website also says use of propolis in the treatment of cold sores “might help improve healing time and reduce pain”.
Propolis is rated “possibly effective” in the treatment of colds by nlm.nih.gov. In 2002, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published research findings that showed that propolis possessed anti-inflammatory properties and was effective in the treatment of burns.
A study, which involved the treatment of second-degree burns using propolis and silver sulfurdiazene, showed that propolis was as effective as silver sulfurdiazene in the treatment. It also had greater anti-inflammatory benefits than sulfurdiazene.
On how propolis fights cavities, a 2003 study in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin showed that propolis helps inhibit the growth of mutans streptococci, bacteria that contributes to the development of cavities.
Because of its health benefits, Nambatya says some Forever Living products are propolis-based (others are aloe vera-based).
Other proven benefits
A 2005 study published in Pharmacological Research, showed propolis lowered blood sugar levels in diabetic rats, making it likely to be effective in the treatment of diabetes. It was also shown to be effective in the reduction of cholesterol levels.
Jude Ssenkungu, a naturopath with Dama Medicinal Herbs says he has effectively used propolis to lower cholesterol in patients. He lists menstrual cramps, asthma and allergies as some of the other disease conditions he has effectively treated using propolis.
However, it is important to note that propolis is said to trigger asthma attacks and allergies in individuals who have developed allergies from bee stings and products, according to nlm.nih.gov.
Ssenkungu, like Nambatya, says that propolis is a “good antibiotic”.
It is also important to note that while various studies have shown various health benefits of propolis, nlm.nih.gov says there is insufficient evidence to show that propolis is effective in the treatment of tuberculosis, nose and throat cancer, ulcers, common colds, wounds, minor burns, cancer sores, stomach and intestinal disorders and inflammation.
The studies that have been done are said to be too small and further research is needed to safely say that propolis is effective in treatment of the conditions mentioned.