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The Alternative Cure

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bee Propolis


Whenever we go to work, make a trip to the supermarket, or just step outside to smell the roses, we risk picking up germs and bringing them back to the nest. It’s darn near impossible to avoid.

The same goes for bees. As tens of thousands of bees traipse in and out of the hive each day, they pick up germs along the way and take them back to the colony. Thanks to a sticky brown substance called propolis, however, bees keep the insides of their hives germ-free.

Bee propolis is the resin that bees collect from the buds and wounds of trees and other plants and mix with beeswax. In warm weather, propolis is sticky and soft and can be used to fill holes or spread over surfaces like a shellac. In cool weather, the propolis hardens and becomes brittle. The bees use it to caulk, seal, line, and strengthen the hive, but they also use it to ward off contamination and germs in the hive. That’s because propolis, also known as Russian penicillin, has antibacterial properties.

It’s this ability to fight bacteria that makes it an intriguing supplement for humans. The use of propolis as medicine dates back to the time of Aristotle, about 350 b.c.

The Greeks used propolis for abscesses, while the Assyrians used it to heal wounds and tumors, according to Steve Nenninger, N.D., a naturopathic doctor in New York City.

The Egyptians used it for mummification—and so do bees, says Theodore Cherbuliez, M.D., a physician in Scarsdale, New York, and president of the American Apitherapy Society, a nonprofit organization that advances the investigation of the healing use of products from the beehive. If a mouse crawls into the hive for warmth in the winter, bees will sting it to death. Then, since they can’t physically remove the mouse, they will mummify it with propolis to protect the health of the hive. "Imagine the inside of a beehive, says Dr. Cherbuliez. "It’s hot, humid, and an ideal milieu to grow bacteria on that dead mouse. Propolis prevents this from happening."

Proponents today use propolis to treat a variety of illnesses, including colds, flu, and sore throats; skin problems; wounds and bruises; stomach ulcers; burns; hemorrhoids; gum disease; high blood pressure; bad breath; and tonsillitis. They also promote it for boosting immunity. But even the strongest supporters rely on stories of healing, rather than on statistical studies, when they claim that it’s a nutritional supplement. No carefully controlled studies exist to back these claims.

There are more than 300 components in propolis, including bio flavonoids, says Dr. Cherbuliez. Because propolis comes from a variety of plants, the amount and type of these components can vary by season and region.

Collecting propolis for human use is an arduous task. To get the purest product, beekeepers place small inserts into the hives. To bees, the inserts look like cracks. Thinking that their hive needs repair, the bees fill the inserts with propolis. Propolis can also be scraped out of the hive, but this yields an inferior product that may contain unwanted by-products.

Bee propolis is available in tablets, throat lozenges, chewable tablets with vitamin C, cough syrup, toothpaste, mouthwash, skin lotions, lipstick, throat spray, salve, and tincture. It’s best to buy propolis from a supplement manufacturer that specializes in bee products.

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