Discover 7 science-backed potential benefits of propolis
By Jenny Perez, BSc, Herbal Sciences
You may not have heard of "bee glue," but it's exactly what it sounds like—a sticky, resinous mixture that bees use to fill gaps in their beehives.
And for us humans, bee glue may provide a range of health benefits. In fact, bee glue or as it’s more commonly named, propolis, has a long history of use in natural healing and health.
Because propolis is high in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, this natural substance is believed to aid in wound healing, fight infections, reduce inflammation, and provide antioxidant effects.1
One of our goals with the Quantum blog is to shine a light on overlooked and lesser-known health supplement ingredients.
In this blog we take a deep dive into propolis, exploring its long history of use, examining what science says about its potential benefits, and providing background on the importance of antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids.
What is Propolis?
Propolis is a sticky compound made by bees from the sap on needle-leaved conifers and certain deciduous trees like cottonwood (Populus spp.) and birch (Betula spp.). Bees use this sticky, greenish-brown substance to build their beehives and to keep their colony healthy. *
Most importantly for us humans, researchers are investigating the diverse therapeutic properties of propolis for potential use in treating various health conditions.2
While we don’t know when propolis was first discovered, we can trace its medicinal use back to Greek and Roman doctors. In fact, the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, was one of the first doctors to use propolis to help heal ulcers and wounds.3
The composition of propolis varies based on the trees and flowers that bees visit. Similar to how honey has specific qualities local to the region, the same is true for propolis. Researchers have identified more than 500 compounds in propolis, predominantly in the form of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that work to reduce the impacts of illness and damage in the body. 2
Typically, propolis contains elements like beeswax, pollen, essential oils, vitamins (A, B, C, and E), minerals (sodium, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc), and various organic compounds, including flavonoids, polyphenols, amino acids, and quercetin, among others. The range of biologically active compounds in propolis is extremely deep – underscoring the power of nature to help us heal and thrive. 2
Understanding Antioxidants, Polyphenols, and Flavonoids
Scientists (and us) are excited about propolis and its health benefits. This statement from a 2022 study titled Propolis: Its Role and Efficacy in Human Health and Diseases is very promising:
In the modern era, research on propolis has been directly based on a deeper understanding of its biological activity, and in numerous preclinical and clinical studies, it has been proven that a wide range of natural compounds, including flavonoids, phenolic compounds, polyphenols, terpenes, terpenoids, and aromatic acids in propolis are potential anticancer, antiapoptotic, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral agents.
To understand why propolis has all of us at Quantum buzzing, here are the facts you need to know about antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids:2,4,5,6,7,8
- Antioxidants are molecules that help defend against free radical damage to your cells. At high levels, free radicals cause oxidative stress in your body. This oxidative stress may damage your cells, cause inflammation, and contribute to health conditions including diabetes or cancer.
Your body can produce antioxidants and these powerful molecules are found in fruits, vegetables, other whole plant-based foods, and in supplements.
- Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods including vegetables, fruit, dark chocolate, spices, tea, and wine. Polyphenols can act as antioxidants, helping to slow or neutralize free radical damage in your body.
There are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols including flavonoids, phenolic acids, polyphenolic amides, and more. Propolis is shown to contain a diverse range of polyphenol compounds.
- Flavonoids are natural compounds rich in antioxidant properties and activity. Flavonoids help give fruits and vegetables their bright colors and contribute to the important health benefits of these foods.
There are over 4,000 types of flavonoids found in fruit, flowers, and leaves. Each type of flavonoid is categorized in one of six subclasses: flavonols, flavones, flavanones, flavanols, anthocyanins, and isoflavones. And each subclass has a different role in supporting and benefiting your health. Research reveals that flavonoids provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties.
When we urge you to eat the rainbow – it’s because we want you to get the deep benefits of flavonoids! And as an extra bonus, propolis is rich in flavonoids.
In summary, propolis is a rich and natural source of antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids. No wonder, researchers are actively studying bee glue and trying to learn more about how it benefits us!
7 Science-Backed Potential Propolis Benefits*
While propolis has a deep history of medicinal use, it is only now garnering significant attention from researchers who are working hard to fully understand the range of propolis benefits for human health.
We want you to know about these 7 science-backed potential propolis benefits: 1, 2, 9, 10*
- As an ointment or cream, propolis shows benefits for wound healing, burn treatments, acne, skin conditions, and herpes.
- As an ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash, propolis may help prevent and treat various mouth and gum conditions including gingivitis and stomatitis.
- As a dietary supplement, propolis may provide beneficial support to glucose metabolism, helping to lower blood glucose levels and support improved blood lipid metabolism in individuals with Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- Potential for providing anti-inflammatory health benefits for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, including bone and cartilage regeneration and in reducing oxidative stress.
- Researchers are interested in the potential of propolis in supporting the treatment for heart conditions and reducing the impacts of oxidative stress on heart health.
- When taken as a natural supplement, propolis may help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- As a potential ingredient in asthma treatment, propolis may contribute to fewer and less severe asthma attacks.
How to Take Propolis
Because propolis research is still ongoing, there are no daily dosage guidelines. The best approach is to always follow the dosage recommendations included with your propolis supplement.
Propolis is available in lozenges, capsules, as an ointment, and as a liquid extract. When choosing a propolis supplement, choose propolis that has a diverse bioflavonoid spectrum, is fully tested, and does not contain heavy metals, non-organic materials, and other potential contaminants.
Always choose ultra-quality supplement products that you can count on day in and day out. The better the quality of your supplements, the better it is for your whole-body health.
Consult your healthcare team before making changes to your nutrition, exercise, or supplements. Discuss all supplements, including the vitamins and minerals you take or plan to take, as these may interact differently with underlying health conditions and medication. Always follow the suggested use instructions and read the warnings on the supplement product label before consumption.
1. Wagh VD. Propolis: a wonder bees product and its pharmacological potentials. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2013;2013:308249. doi: 10.1155/2013/308249. Epub 2013 Dec 9. PMID: 24382957; PMCID: PMC3872021. (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872021/
2. Zullkiflee N, Taha H, Usman A. Propolis: Its Role and Efficacy in Human Health and Diseases. Molecules. 2022 Sep 19;27(18):6120. doi: 10.3390/molecules27186120. PMID: 36144852; PMCID: PMC9504311. (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9504311/
3. Historical and modern research on propolis and its application in wound healing and other fields of medicine and contributions by Polish studies: Sciencedirect.com (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874120330415
4. Antioxidants Explained in Simple Terms: Healthline.com (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained
5. What is Oxidative Stress?: Webmd.com (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-oxidative-stress
6. What Are Polyphenols? Types, Benefits, and Food Sources: Healthline.com (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/polyphenols
7.What Are Flavonoids? Everything You Need to Know: Healthline.com (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.healthline.com/health/what-are-flavonoids-everything-you-need-to-know
8. Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Nov-Dec;2(5):270-8. doi: 10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498. PMID: 20716914; PMCID: PMC2835915. (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835915/
9. Samadi N, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Rahmanian M, Askarishahi M. Effects of bee propolis supplementation on glycemic control, lipid profile and insulin resistance indices in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. J Integr Med. 2017 Mar;15(2):124-134. doi: 10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60315-7. PMID: 28285617. (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28285617/
10. Pasupuleti VR, Sammugam L, Ramesh N, Gan SH. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:1259510. doi: 10.1155/2017/1259510. Epub 2017 Jul 26. PMID: 28814983; PMCID: PMC5549483. (Accessed September 5, 2023) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549483/
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Jenny Perez is an herbal educator, researcher, and writer who has been immersed in the field of nutrition and botanical medicine for more than 20 years. Jenny has created curriculum, content, and educational materials for Quantum Nutrition Labs, Premier Research Labs, the American Botanical Council, and Bastyr University’s Botanical Medicine Department where she was Adjunct Faculty, Herb Garden Manager, and Director of the Holistic Landscape Design certificate program.