Propolis: The benefits of it on health by Dr. Albert BECKER

Propolis is used as an alternative medication in the prevention of certain pathologies. According to its botanical origins, it has therapeutic activities due to the presence of numerous active ingredients belonging to the flavonoid family. It is the subject of much scientific research.

Propolis is a resinous substance collected by worker bees from the buds of trees to seal and sanitize the hive. This definition does not take into account the complexity of the composition of propolis, the variety of its origins and its interest for human and animal health!

Interest of propolis for the bee

To survive, the colony needs to fight against all forms of pathogenic aggression that could affect its existence (bacteria, parasites, viruses, but also insects and even small rodents). The trees to protect the bud (immature defenseless system) coat it with a resinous layer which will defend it against most bacterial, fungal and viral attacks, associated with a repellent effect against certain predatory insects. The hive will use these complex resins to protect itself.

Bees harvest propolis when the temperature is around 18-20°C. The workers modify it by kneading it with their mouthparts while incorporating their pharyngeal secretions. They systematically caulk the hive by plugging all the holes ensuring its sealing concomitantly with excellent asepsis. They do the same with any stationary object or intruder in the hive.

The opening at the entrance to the hive is constantly adjusted and remodeled using propolis in order to adapt its dimensions and orientation to the climatic conditions. This passage constitutes at the same time a kind of sterilization chamber at the entrance of the hive, hence the name propolis which means, in Greek “in front” (pro) of the “city” (polis).

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Different propolis according to its botanical origin

There are many kinds of propolis which depend on the geographical area where the hive is located, the plants and trees present. They vary according to the availability of plants during the seasons and the species of bee. This explains why we find propolis of amber yellow color going to dark brown through varieties qualified as green or red. The bee will look for the propolis in its ecosystem and it is on this ecosystem that the quality of the propolis will depend. Indeed, in the absence of the plants necessary for the production of propolis, the bee will use substitute materials that are more or less harmful for them and for human health (bitumen, varnish, mineral oils, etc.).

The most common propolis is European propolis, mainly from poplars and chestnut trees. Green propolis from Brazil comes from Baccharis dracunculifolia, red propolis from Dalbergia. Besides that, you will find all kinds of propolis, resulting from a complex assembly of more or less well-identified plant resins present in the hive’s ecosystem.

Harvest method

This substance usually constitutes a by-product for the beekeeper who is obliged to remove it to facilitate his daily work.

The most common technique for harvesting propolis comes from scraping the frames to remove this sticky substance. It is often very difficult to date the age of this generally dark-colored propolis and to define whether or not it contains inappropriate residues (tars, hive treatment products, other contaminants, etc.)

The second technique consists of using food grids that are placed on top of the frames at some point in the season and removed a few weeks later. During this period, we are certain that the beekeeper has not treated his hives and therefore that this propolis is devoid of all contaminants (It is only a few weeks old at most, which results in a much lighter color)

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Biochemical composition of propolis

Propolis is a natural substance modified by the bee, so there are many factors that will influence its composition. These include the botanical origin of the propolis, the age of the plant from which the propolis was harvested and the species of the bee.

As a result, the composition of propolis can be very different from one region to another and from one season to another for the same place of harvest. As a general rule, propolis consists of 50 to 55% resins and balms, 30% wax and fatty acids, 10% essential oil, 5% pollen and 5% organic and mineral substances. Among these organic substances, there are many flavonoids and other phenolic compounds, minerals and vitamins. Thanks to the action of the bee and the presence of pollen, propolis also contains some sugars, enzymes and amino acids.

The analysis of the polyphenolic fraction makes it possible to constitute a specific fingerprint for each type of propolis, thus making it possible to identify its botanical origin.

The therapeutic virtues of propolis

Hippocrates, father of medicine in 400 BC, advocates the use of propolis in the treatment

Due to its broad spectrum of biological activities, propolis is widely used in traditional medicine in different parts of the world.

Documented activities

  • Antioxidant activity with the presence of numerous polyphenols.
  • Antibacterial activity against most pathogenic germs infecting the otorhinopharyngeal, gastrointestinal, urogenital, cutaneous and oral spheres.
  • Antifungal activity against fungi belonging to the genus Candida and certain yeasts.
  • Antiviral activity against influenza virus, herpes. Some propolis are an interesting lead as a complementary treatment agent to antiviral therapies for HIV virus infection and certain tropical parasitic diseases.
  • Anti-inflammatory activity with an inhibiting action on inflammation enzymes
  • Activity on the immune system
  • Very interesting potential anti-cancer activity
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Attention, when we want to use a natural product whose objective is to help our health, it is important to take care to control the quality of this product in order, on the one hand not to introduce elements which would be harmful to our health, on the other hand to guarantee the constant presence of an effective content of active principles.

Dr. Albert BECKER President of the AFA Francophone Association of Apitherapy


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