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5 Bee Propolis Benefits + Dosage, Side Effects

Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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bees make propolis

Propolis is one of the world’s oldest medicines. Research suggests it may help fight infections, boost the immune system, and improve type 2 diabetes. Used since prehistoric times, the ancient Egyptians even considered it holy. Read on to learn about the potential health benefits of propolis, along with its most common side effects and dosage information.

What Is Propolis?

The natural form of propolis – also known as bee’s glue – is a hard, brittle resin that becomes very sticky and waxy when heated up. The word propolis means “suburb” in Greek, as the bees use propolis to extend and defend their hives [1].

Propolis is produced by honeybees using plant parts and sap. Bees use propolis as a type of cement for building, repairing, and protecting their hives against bacteria and intruders. Observing bees, humans all over the world learned to use propolis for millennia as a health supplement, “cure-all”, and even for rituals such as mummification [2, 1, 3].

Recent research and interest in propolis revealed its potential health benefits for lowering blood pressure, strengthening the bones, helping to heal wounds, and protecting the liver [4, 5].

This article will guide you through the modern uses of this ancient remedy.

Propolis Bioactive Compounds

The chemical makeup of propolis is closely connected to its geographical origin, flora, and the bee species. It can vary widely, even from hive to hive [6].

Organic propolis is typically dark brown or green in color, has a sweet smell, and is made up of [7, 8, 9, 10]:

  • Resins (50-70%)
  • Beeswax (30-50%)
  • Pollen (5-10%)
  • Essential oils (depends on the region, usually basil, thyme, and geranium) (5-10%)
  • Other compounds such as acids, sugars, and vitamins (B, C, and E) (5%-7%)

The main active ingredients in propolis are flavonoids such as chrysin, which are strong antioxidants that bees get from plant and flower parts. Bees make propolis by mixing their saliva with plant material, pollen, and beeswax [11].

Over 300 biologically active ingredients have been identified in propolis thus far, including fragrant chemicals, acids, carbohydrates, plant oils, and vitamins (B1, B2, C, and E). New types of propolis are being discovered as interest grows around the world [12].

Mechanism of Action

A large number of bioactive and antioxidant compounds in propolis explain its wide-ranging potential benefits. Propolis may act in the body to [13]:

  • Kill bacteria and viruses by stopping their growth and spread [14, 15, 16].
  • Fight yeast infections by blocking the growth of yeast and fungus [17].
  • Help with allergies by blocking the release of histamines [18].
  • Lower blood pressure by lowering the activity of an enzyme (tyrosine hydroxylase) that may cause high blood pressure [19].
  • Boost bone health and help heal fractures by strengthening bone density [20].
  • Fight cancer by blocking the growth of cancer cells and causing cell death (apoptosis) [21, 22].
  • Enhance tooth and oral health and neutralize cavities by killing bacteria and reducing swelling around the gums [23].
  • Speed up wound healing by promoting skin cell rejuvenation [24].
  • Protect the liver from toxins, injury, and disease [25].
  • Help with diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels [26].

Health Benefits of Propolis, Side Effects, and Drug Interactions

Possibly Effective for:

1) Bacterial, Viral, and Fungal Infections

Bees protect the hive from bacteria by covering debris with propolis to block the spread of harmful parasites [27].

Propolis can kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites when used either orally or on the skin. The two best-studied propolis varieties for this purpose are Brazilian propolis and European propolis. In one study of 30 children, a Brazilian propolis mouth rinse was effective at killing oral bacteria [14, 15, 28, 29].

A propolis ointment was more effective than both the placebo and an antiviral drug (acyclovir) at healing the lesions in a clinical trial on 90 people with genital herpes. Similarly, a lipstick with propolis was more effective than acyclovir in a clinical trial on almost 200 people with cold sores [30, 31].

In a study on mice, propolis enhanced the activity of antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral drugs. Propolis attacked microbes by switching off their ability to make copies of themselves and grow [32, 16, 33].

Propolis may fight yeast infections and other fungi by blocking their ability to form colonies in the body. In a study of 707 patients with fingernail fungal infections, propolis extract applied to the nails cured infections in more than half of the participants after 6 months. It could penetrate the nail and destroy fungal biofilms [34].

In several cell studies, propolis stopped the formation of yeast clusters by dissolving this biofilm layer that yeast cells use to cling to body surfaces, preventing an infection. It could also kill Candida and block its biofilms in cells [4, 35, 36, 37].

Although limited, the evidence suggests that propolis may help with several infections. You may discuss with your doctor if it may help as add-on therapy in your case. Never use propolis in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes for infections.

2) Oral Health

In 2 clinical trials of 6 adult volunteers and 70 healthy children, a propolis mouthwash reduced oral bacteria and plaque buildup [38, 39].

In another trial of 30 dental students, propolis-based herbal toothpaste outperformed commercial toothpaste in reducing dental plaque after 2 weeks [40].

Chewing gums with propolis reduced the salivary counts of a cavities-causing microbe (Streptococcus mutans) in a clinical trial on 30 healthy children [41].

In a clinical trial on 31 people recovering from a jaw fracture, a green propolis gel eliminated the microbes potentially causing cavities and gum disease while preserving the beneficial oral microbiota [42].

Propolis gels and mouthwashes improved gum disease in 2 trials on 78 people. A solution with 20% propolis irrigated under the gumline helped as an adjunct to conventional therapy to gum disease in a small trial on 16 people [43, 44, 45].

Using propolis for dental fillings may be one of the earliest forms of dentistry, dating thousands of years back. Ancient human skeletons with propolis and beeswax dental fillings have been discovered, the oldest one being from Slovenia and dating 6,500 years back [46, 47].

Oral propolis improved mouth ulcers (aphthous stomatitis) in 2 clinical trials on over 100 people [48, 49]

Mouthwashes with propolis also reduced the damage to the mouth lining caused by chemo and radiotherapy (oral mucositis) in 4 clinical trials on 214 people being treated for different cancer types. However, they were ineffective in 2 trials on over 100 adults and 50 children [50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55].

Taken together, the evidence suggests that propolis may have some benefits to oral health. Discuss with your doctor how you can use it for this purpose.

3) Type 2 Diabetes

Propolis may lower high blood sugar levels and improve blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetes, according to some human and animal studies [26].

In 4 trials of over 250 patients with type 2 diabetes, 400-1500 mg/day of propolis reduced blood sugar and boosted antioxidant defense [56, 57, 58, 59].

Mexican propolis had similar effects in diabetic mice [60].

15% of diabetics develop open sores on the bottom of the foot (diabetic foot ulcers). High blood sugar levels reduce the body’s ability to heal these ulcers, causing severe infections that may even require the amputation of the affected limb. Topical propolis sped up the healing of diabetic foot ulcers in 2 small trials on 64 people [61, 62].

Again, limited evidence suggests that propolis may help with both diabetes and the healing of ulcers derived from this condition. You may try it for this condition f you and your doctor determine that it could be appropriate in your case. Never take propolis instead of proven therapies for diabetes.

4) Antioxidant

Although most of the research was in cells or animals, a few recent human studies have also confirmed the antioxidant benefits of propolis.

In a clinical trial of 67 people, 15 drops of a propolis solution (Beepolis) twice daily acted as a potent antioxidant, increased the master antioxidant glutathione, as well as the “good” cholesterol HDL. It was given for 3 months and reduced the risk of heart disease [63].

In a clinical trial of 47 people, powdered propolis (with about 50 mg flavonoids/day) reduced oxidative stress in men by 23% after 30 days [64].

As mentioned above, propolis supplementation improved the antioxidant status in 2 clinical trials on over 100 people with type 2 diabetes [59, 56].

Although limited, the evidence from the clinical trials so far conducted suggests that propolis may have antioxidant activity in humans. Further clinical research is needed to determine its potential therapeutic use.

Insufficient Evidence for:

Lowering Blood Pressure

In a study of 35 people, propolis slightly lowered blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) when taken twice a day for 3 months [5].

In rats, propolis lowered high blood pressure and prevented heart damage by blocking an enzyme (like tyrosine hydroxylase) that causes high blood pressure [19, 65].

A single clinical trial and two rat studies cannot be considered sufficient evidence that propolis lowers blood pressure. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to confirm these preliminary findings.

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of propolis for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Allergies

Overactivation of mast cells and histamine release is the leading cause of allergic reactions, including seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema. In a mouse study, the flavonoid Quercetin found in propolis blocked histamine release and relieved allergic sinus symptoms [66, 18, 67].

Propolis supplementation seems to balance the Th1/Th2 response but is probably better for Th2-dominant people. Th1-dominant people should avoid propolis to prevent immune system overactivation.

In healthy mice, it reduced some inflammatory Th1 cytokines (IFN-gamma). In stressed mice, it enhanced the Th2 response. But in another mice study, it activated the Th1 response [68, 69, 70, 71].

Wound Healing

Propolis supplementation may improve wound healing by boosting the growth of new skin cells, according to animal and cellular studies [24].

Propolis sped up wound healing in mice, helping to regenerate the damaged. In a cellular study, Chinese propolis protected the cells from damage, maintained collagen activity, and turned on antioxidant glutathione genes (such as GCLM) [24, 72].

Bone Health

Propolis may strengthen bones and keeps them healthy by increasing bone density, especially after injury [20].

In a study in rats, an active component of propolis enhanced new bone formation [73].

Protecting the Liver

Propolis may protect the liver from alcohol-induced injury and reduce the risk of liver disease by preventing liver scarring based on animal and cell-based studies [74, 25].

In rats, propolis extract reduced liver damage from chronic alcohol use [75]

Cancer

Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on the potential anticancer activity of propolis. Note that many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach and this doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) fail to pass further clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy.

Propolis fights cancer in cells by preventing cancer from making new blood vessels, causing cancer cells to die due to a lack of oxygen [21].

However, some propolis compounds are unstable and may need to be optimized to achieve the benefits. Optimized active compounds from propolis killed cancer in both cellular and animal studies [76].

Limitations and Caveats

Despite a long history of use in folk medicine around the world, clinical studies on propolis are limited. Human trials are rare and limited to specific types of propolis, which limits the knowledge about the benefits of other common varieties.

Side Effects & Precautions

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.

Since there are many types of propolis, the side effects are hard to standardize. Generally, propolis is safe, except for people who are allergic to bees or bee products [65].

One Italian study reported 18 cases of negative reactions to propolis products over 5 years, of which 16 were allergic reactions, 7 were in people allergic to specifically to propolis, and 2 were gut issues [77].

Drug Interactions

Supplement/Herb/Nutrient-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

  • Propolis blocked specific liver enzymes (CYP1A2) that metabolize many drugs in test tubes. It may increase the blood concentration and toxicity of drugs such as theophylline, acetaminophen, propranolol, and a number of antidepressants (including SSRIs) [78].
  • In cells, propolis boosts the effectiveness of antibiotics. It may help fight bacterial infections used alongside antibiotics, but clinical studies would need to attest to this [79, 80].

Supplementation

Forms

Propolis is available in many forms, depending on the intended use:

  • Extracts, tinctures, and propolis spray
  • Dried powder, usually in capsules
  • Raw resinous propolis from the hive
  • Syrup for eating, mostly mixed with other extracts or honey
  • Propolis for skin: face and hand cream, gel, or ointment
  • Propolis shampoo
  • Propolis toothpaste

Propolis can be found in most health stores and pharmacies. The extract or tincture form of propolis has been researched the most, though the use of dental and skin formulations is also backed up by studies.

Dosage

Because propolis is not approved for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Nevertheless, propolis is considered to be non-toxic and safe except in people with allergies to bee products.

In clinical studies, the propolis dosage varied between 50-1,500 mg/day with no reported side effects [34, 64].

Propolis with Other Bee Products

Propolis, royal jelly, and honey all contain bioactive flavonoids. They are all antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Used together, they may help fight inflammation, viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, speed up wound healing, and protect the heart [81].

The combination of propolis with honey and royal jelly may be particularly good for fighting infections based on antimicrobial studies [82].

Can you eat Propolis?

Propolis is considered a health supplement, like other bee products. You can eat pure propolis, but it’s typically added to honey as an extract, which improves its taste. Propolis lozenges and chewing gum are also available.

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of propolis users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Consumers who purchased propolis from various health and wellness retailers reported positive experiences. They found propolis extracts, capsules, and tablets especially good for boosting the immune system and providing sore throat and sinus congestion relief.

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About the Author

Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic

MSc (Pharmacy)
Ana received her MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade.
Ana has many years of experience in clinical research and health advising. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana spent years working with patients who suffer from various mental health issues and chronic health problems. She is a strong advocate of integrating scientific knowledge and holistic medicine.

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