The Bee's Knees
By Vera Tweed
The biggest buzz in the nutritional world comes from bee propolis, a therapeutic substance with surprisingly far-reaching health benefits

bee-propolis-honeyHoneybees have been called the angels of agriculture for good reason. One of every three mouthfuls of food we eat depends on their pollination of crops, including nuts and many fruits and vegetables, according to the Agricultural Research Service of the federal government. But bees also produce some natural superfoods of their own that can give a big boost to our health.

Honey has been prized as a delicious and medicinal food for thousands of years. Bee pollen is a concentrated source of protein and carbohydrates plus vitamins and minerals. And royal jelly is known as a super-concentrated food and energy booster that contains more than 100 different nutrients. But the biggest buzz in the nutritional world comes from bee propolis, a therapeutic substance with far- reaching health benefits

What Is Propolis?

Bees use propolis to protect their hives. The term comes from the Greek words “pro”—meaning for, or in defense of—and “polis,” meaning city. In the bee world, that means defending the hive, but it can also mean defending the human body.

Bees make propolis from gum in tree sap and other plants, and they endow it with unique properties. Used in hives to seal small spaces, much like we use caulking, propolis sterilizes and protects against parasites and microbial infection. As an example: If a small invader, such as a lizard, disrupts a hive, the bees can kill it, but they may not be able to carry it away. To prevent infection from the carcass, they seal it off with propolis.

Humans have known about the antiseptic property of propolis for more than 2,000 years, and have used it as a natural antibiotic and wound healer. But more recent evidence points to a broader set of benefits.

What It Does

In the past 60 years, more than 1,500 studies have looked at bee propolis. Most have examined its chemical properties, many have tested it in animals, and there have been some human trials.

Altogether, the research shows that propolis contains strong antioxidants, is a powerful anti-inflammatory, acts as a natural antibiotic against bacteria, fights colds and flu, protects against fungal infections, helps lower elevated blood sugar, protects the liver and kidneys against toxic damage, may fight cancer, improves wound healing, and prevents cavities.

Clinical Evidence

In human studies, bee propolis has been found to:

  • Speed recovery from dental surgery and reduce pain and inflammation, when used in a mouthwash.
  • Improve periodontal disease when used in an irrigation formula by dentists.
  • Cure thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth (usually Candida albicans), when applied topically.
  • Improve breathing and reduce nighttime attacks in people with mild to moderate asthma, when used in conjunction with an inhaler. (The study used a proprietary propolis water extract, PWE, found in NaturaNectar Throat Guardian spray.)
  • Reduce outbreaks of canker sores.
  • In an ointment, heal genital herpes more quickly than a placebo or medicated ointment.
  • Fight parasite infections.
  • Improve fertility among women with endometriosis.
  • Relieve vaginitis, when used in a douche.

Extracts Differ

The exact make-up of a given bee propolis supplement is influenced by two factors: the location of the bees—because they eat local plants and these affect the composition of the propolis—and the exact way in which an extract is made.

During the past year, red propolis from Brazil became available in the Unites States. This type is particularly high in antioxidants and contains isoflavones, which are also found in other plants such as soy. Isoflavones are beneficial for women approaching menopause because they act like natural estrogens and help relieve symptoms of fluctuating estrogen, such as mood swings and hot flashes. If you’re looking for menopause relief, look for red propolis formulated for this purpose.

Other products are formulated for immune support, healthy digestion, respiratory health, and overall good health and well-being.

Picking Products

Bee propolis is available alone or in formulas, in pills, tinctures, mouth and throat sprays, moisturizing or healing skin creams, ointments, and in toothpastes and mouthwashes. Look for propolis products that are designed for your personal needs. Bee propolis is also an ingredient in some doggie treats and supplements.

  • Erba-Vita-Propolis-Throat-Spray Natura-Nectar-BeePropolis-Trio Y.-S.-Eco-Bee-Farms-Propolis
    Erba Vita
    Propolis Throat Spray, made with water-soluble European propolis rich in polyphenols, keeps bugs away and your throat clear.
    Bee Propolis Trio features 100% Brazilian bee propolis
    extracted from the hive using a patented method to ensure flavonoids remain intact.
    Y.S. Eco Bee Farms
    Propolis 1000
    provides a highly concentrated dose of one of nature’s richest sources of bioflavonoids—guaranteed potency and purity.

    BeeEndangered Bees

    Since 2006, the United States has lost billions of honeybees—and pesticides are a major killer. One class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, is especially harmful to bees but continues to be used. To find out how you can help stop the damage, search for “honeybees” at

    Better Nutrition contributing editor, Vera Tweed is the former editor in chief of GreatLife magazine and the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and the User’s Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.

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