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Bees create propolis, a natural resin, to build their hives. Propolis is made from the buds of conifer and poplar trees, beeswax, and other bee secretions. Historically, propolis was used in Greece to treat abscesses. The Assyrians also used propolis to heal wounds and tumors, while the Egyptians used it for mummification. Today, propolis is commonly found in chewing gum, cosmetics, creams, lozenges, and skin creams. It is frequently used in foods and beverages with the claim that it can maintain or improve health.
Propolis has shown promise in dentistry for dental caries and as a natural sealant and enamel hardener. The effectiveness of propolis against herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 and parasitic infections has been demonstrated in early studies. However, well-designed studies are lacking, and further evidence is warranted in order to determine if propolis is effective for any health condition.
Numerous case reports have demonstrated propolis to be a potent allergen and sensitizing agent. Therefore, it should be used cautiously in allergic people. Toxicity with propolis is rare, although there are multiple case reports of skin irritation and itching, as well as blood vessel inflammation.
Several studies suggest that using propolis as a cream or ointment may help heal an inflamed cervix, the narrow passage at the lower end of the uterus. These studies, however, have been small, low quality, and not fully convincing. Better studies are needed.
Propolis may have a beneficial effect on the healing of minor burns. More studies are needed before propolis can be recommended as a burn treatment.
Colds (prevention and treatment):
There is some evidence that propolis may help prevent infections with the virus that causes the common cold. Propolis nasal sprays have been suggested as a treatment for runny nose, congestion, and fever in children with nose or throat infections. However, there is not enough clinical evidence to support this use of propolis.
Cornea complications from zoster:
Laboratory studies suggest that propolis has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. There is limited research of propolis for the treatment of eye complications of Varicella zoster, the virus that causes chicken pox or shingles. Some evidence suggests that propolis may speed up healing and improve sight. However, human research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
There is early evidence suggesting that propolis (e.g., propolis gel) may reduce dental pain. Additional research is needed before a clear recommendation can be made.
Dental plaque and gingivitis (mouthwash):
Early studies suggest that using a propolis mouthwash may reduce plaque formation, reduce bacteria in the mouth, relieve dental pain and gum inflammation (periodontitis), be useful as a sealant after root canal surgery, and help heal dental wounds. Early study using a gel prepared with propolis and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) applied to the gums found that the gel provided comfort and was accepted by the volunteers. Although there has been promising research, particularly in the area of plaque reduction, most studies have been small, low quality, and not fully convincing. Better studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.
Dental wound healing:
In animals, propolis helped the mouth heal after teeth were removed. Human research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Fungal infections (of the mouth):
A Brazilian commercial ethanol propolis extract, formulated to ensure physical and chemical stability, was found to inhibit oral candidiasis, a fungal infection of the mouth. More studies are needed to determine if propolis is safe and effective for treating oral candidiasis.
Genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection:
Laboratory studies report that propolis may have action against viruses, including herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2. Early results from poorly designed human studies suggest that propolis used on the skin may improve lesions from genital herpes virus infections. However, without better human research, including comparisons to prescription drugs, firm conclusions cannot be drawn.
Animal and laboratory studies suggest that propolis may help treat various types of infections. Initial human research reports possible benefits against bacteria in the mouth, genital herpes, urine bacteria, intestinal giardia infections, or H. pylori. Additional research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Legg-Calve-Perthes disease/avascular hip necrosis:
These diseases are characterized by the death of bone at the hip joint (called the femoral head). Limited human research has tested propolis injections into the joint after hip replacement surgery for these conditions. However, without additional human study of safety and effectiveness, no clear conclusions can be drawn.
Based on anti-inflammatory effects observed in laboratory research, propolis has been proposed as a possible treatment for rheumatic and other inflammatory diseases. However, there is currently not enough scientific human study to make a clear recommendation.
Stomach ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria:
Some evidence suggests that propolis and some of its components may stop the growth of Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers. Further studies are needed to determine safe and effective doses of propolis to treat stomach ulcers.
Propolis may be an effective treatment for vaginal inflammation. However, more research is needed before propolis can be recommended.
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