What is Propolis?
Propolis is a natural product used by honey bees to repair their hives and strengthen their honeycombs. It’s collected by bees from tree buds such as pine needles and mixed with their own secretions. In its natural form propolis is a sticky and slightly scented brown-green coloured mass.
How Does It Help?
The drug industry is pushing studies into natural bee products. Propolis is under the microscope because of its potential cancer-fighting properties.
Throughout history propolis has been used to heal wounds, settle inflammation and as an ingredient in cosmetics. Today it’s possible to buy propolis in health food stores and pharmacies where it’s sold in liquid or tablet form as an anti-bacterial supplement.
Existing studies have shown some anti-cancer properties in propolis, but there’s still much to learn about its efficacy as a cancer drug.
Although current studies show it has potential as an anti-cancer drug, it’s not that simple. Different climates, plant diversity and species of bee change the composition of propolis. For example, a bee collecting sap in Indonesia would visit plants considerably different to those in North America. The type of bee and its secretions are also influential factors.
Every piece of propolis is likely to be slightly different even if it’s taken from the same area, so studies are underway that concentrate on certain regions and types of bee.
The New Studies
Each sample of propolis was taken from a different international region but all of them returned positive anti-cancer results.
Stingless Bee Propolis
Propolis from the Indonesian stingless bee was tested against human colon, liver, gastric, lung and breast cancer cell lines. It showed that the extract of propolis had ‘moderately potent’ anti-cancer activity.
The compound cardol was identified as the most active; therefore the study suggested cardol was a candidate for cancer chemotherapy.
The Sonaran desert lies in the Mexican state of Sonora which shares a border with Arizona in North America. Sonoran Propolis was tested against human B-cell lymphoma cancer cells.
The antioxidant Pinobankin, and some of its derivates, were discovered for the first time in Sonaran propolis and they were found to induce apoptosis of cancer cells. Apoptosis is when the body causes cell death rather than necrosis, the process in which an external agent is used to kill a cell. Because of this, Sonoran propolis is recommended by researchers as a future potential candidate for anti-cancer drug testing.
Brazilian Red Propolis
Red propolis from Brazil was tested against human ovarian and colon cancer cell lines. The study showed that Brazilian red propolis had anti-oxidant properties and high levels of cyto-toxicity (meaning it was toxic) on all the cancer cells tested.
Researchers suggest that as this propolis decreased the percentage of human tumour cell survival, it has potential as an anti-cancer drug.
In The Future
Much more research is needed into the varying types of propolis and its derivatives, but it’s certainly good news that anti-cancer agents are being uncovered in the natural world. Drug companies are increasingly interested in new drugs from natural sources so we’ll expect to see more studies like these before long.