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Despite being so tiny, bees sure have contributed quite a bit to the health world. In addition to the well-known and established honey and royal jelly, the mini but mighty creatures are also responsible for one of the buzziest (pun intended) ingredients in the wellness space right now: propolis. While sometimes confused for their sweet, honey counterpart, propolis is actually long known for its protective benefits … both for bees and humans.
Also known as “bee glue,” propolis is a resinous, natural substance created by bees from various plants, says Serena Poon, celebrity chef, nutritionist, and reiki master, in an email to TZR. “Bees use propolis to protect their hives from the elements, invaders, and bacteria growth,” she explains. In fact, the word propolis is derived from the Greek language: “pro”meaning defense and “polis” meaning city or community.
And while the ingredient may just be rising in the ranks as the darling of the health world, Poon explains it’s actually been embraced for its healing properties for centuries. “Like honey, propolis has a long history of offering therapeutic benefits to humans,” she explains. “It was used by people dating back to at least ancient Rome, Egypt, and Persia for healing purposes. Researchers have found that this substance contains a vast amount of healing flavonoids, terpenes, and phenolic acids.”
To be clear, research on the effects of propolis on humans is not extensive. Naturopathic practitioner Dr. Yelena Deshko explains that although the majority of research into the beneficial effects of propolis has been cell-based or animal studies, the substance “has shown promise for a wide array of concerns including digestion, immune support, cardiovascular health, wound healing, oral health, and brain health.”
Similar to honey, which carries a host of benefits ranging from antibacterial to digestive, propolis is often seen as one-stop-shop for the immune system. In fact, Poon compiled a check list of reported benefits to give you a full rundown:
Protect against infection: “Researchers have found that propolis carries antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, antioxidant, antifungal, antiulcer, anticancer, and immunomodulatory properties, amongst others.”
Wound healing: “Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties and substances that help protect infection, research demonstrates that propolis can be an effective tool for healing wounds. Propolis also may be helpful in healing acne wounds and scars. Because of this, many skin care products contain propolis.”
Oral health. “Propolis has been shown to have many uses for oral health, including protecting against oral bacteria and infection, limiting plaque and decay, and desensitization. Propolis can be used as a mouthwash or extract to elicit elevated oral health.”
Balance blood sugar. “Propolis has been shown to control glycemic levels and increase insulin sensitivity in people living with type 2 diabetes. If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes it is important to work with your doctor to identify the right solutions for you.”
Heart health. “Research demonstrates that propolis supports heart health through a variety of pathways, including its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The Brazilian green and red varietals of propolis have shown the most promise for heart health.”
While propolis is generally considered very safe and has few reported side effects, Dr. Deshko says it should not be used by anyone with an allergy to bees or bee products. “Since propolis also contains traces of honey, it should not be consumed by children who are younger than 1 year old,” she adds.
Why The Buzz Now?
Although not new to holistic healers and naturopathic medicine, propolis is certainly being harnessed more and more in the commercial wellness community. Brands like Beekeeper’s Naturals, Wise Woman Herbals, and even beauty label SkinFood have all jumped on the bandwagon in recent years.
“Propolis is the thing you take every day to support your immune system,” says Carly Stein, founder and CEO of wellness brand Beekeeper’s Naturals, to TZR. Since 2016, the company has harnessed the power of “hive superfoods” to produce all-natural and ethically harvested formulas that serve as every day health solutions. Think bee pollen for an extra energy kick, antioxidant-packed honey, and the uber-popular propolis oral spray.
Over the past five years, Beekeeper’s Naturals has developed quite the fan base, including a few celebrities. (In fact, actor Lily Collins was recently announced as an investor in the brand.) Poon explains that the rising interest in more natural healing remedies could attribute to propolis’ popularity at the moment. “People continue to seek out the most natural solutions for healing,” she says. “Propolis is truly one of nature’s most incredible healing substances.”
The recent surge interest may also be due to the COVID-19 pandemic says Dr. Deshko. “In light of the pandemic, many more people are seeking ways to improve their health and support their immune system.”
How To Reap The Benefits
So how exactly does this natural healing substance fit into your day-to-day life? Well, in several ways, actually.
“The best ways to consume propolis depend on the specific benefits one is looking to obtain or conditions one is looking to treat,” says Dr. Deshko. “For systemic benefits such as immune, digestive, or antioxidant support, propolis can be taken as a tincture, or for those looking to avoid alcohol, in capsule forms. Raw chunks of propolis are also available and can be chewed and swallowed.”
For wound healing and skin health, propolis creams, ointments and tinctures can be applied directly to the affected area, adds Dr. Deshko. And for oral health, mouthwashes, toothpastes and sprays containing propolis are also available.
“I spray that like four times a day to make sure I don’t get sick and make sure my immune system is functioning,” says Stein. “The reality is, if your immune system isn’t functioning, nothing is working.”