The word “propolis” derives from the Ancient Greek verb (promalasso),“soften beforehand, make supple by rubbing or kneading”. It has been generally believed that honeybees produce propolis to help protect the hive. Apart from its role in sealing holes, blocking cracks, and smoothing out the internal walls, bee glue appears to act as an antiseptic to prevent microbial infection of larvae, honey stores, and the combs.
Propolis is as old as honey, and there are records suggesting the use of it by ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans (1). Vauquelin writes that “propolis or bee mastic is collected by the bees. It is resinous, ductile, odorant substance of a reddish brown colour. In the mass it is blackish; but it is semitransparent when in thin plates.The heat of the fingers is sufficient to soften it and give it all the ductility of wax, but it is more tenacious.” Like wax it may be chewed between the teeth and is tasteless. “Its odor is aromatic, resembling that of balsam of Peru, or of the Banana poplar.”
Propolis varies considerably from region to region along with vegetation, from season to season, and from hive to hive. In each sample of propolis, more than 80 to 100 chemical compounds are typically identified (2). Altogether, at least 180 different compounds have been identified in propolis so far. A broad analysis revealed approximately 50 constituents in “typical” European propolis, which comes usually from trees, such as poplars and conifers. These constituents comprise primarily resins and vegetable balsams, mainly cinnamic acid and derivatives, coumaric acid, prenylated compounds, artepillin C, beeswax, essential oils, bee pollen, and minerals, polysaccharides, proteins, amino acids, amines, amides, and organic debris (3).
The major constituents of propolis from most of the sources are flavonoids (4).Some of the principal phenolic esters and flavonoids like caffeic acid phenethyl ester, quercetin, baicalin, pinocembrin, naringin, galangin, and chrysin have been found to be responsible for antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities of propolis (5). In tropical regions bees also gather resin from flowers in the genera Clusia and Dalechampia, in addition to a large variety of trees. These are the only known plant genera that produce floral resins to attract pollinators (6-10). Many compounds isolated so far from propolis represent a fraction of its content. Most of them come from the part of propolis soluble in organic solvents, whereas the large part of beeglue which is not readily soluble in water or organic solvents most probably consists of natural polymeric material.
Uses of Propolis
In the years 1967–1973 a series of studies were performed in Denmark, the results of which turned to be sensational. Dr Karl Lund Aagaard, a Danish biologist, earned the name “Dr Propolis” for his exploits of over 20 years of propolis collecting and research. After observing the effects of propolis on more than 50,000 patients in Scandinavia, Dr Aagaard drew the following conclusions: The field of influence of Propolis is extremely broad. It includes infection of the urinary tract, swelling of the throat, gout, open wounds, sinus congestion, colds, influenza, bronchitis, gastritis, diseases of the ears, periodontal disease, intestinal infections, ulcers, eczema eruptions, pneumonia, arthritis, lung disease, stomach virus, headaches, Parkinson’s disease, bile infections, sclerosis, circulation deficiencies, warts, conjunctivitis and hoarseness (11). In 1976 Aagaard patented a method for purifying and separating propolis derived from beehives. The method included the steps of quick-freezing untreated propolis repeatedly at temperatures below −20C and then crushing the treated propolis to smaller particles at a temperature below 10C. These particles were then separated to a number of fractions according to size, and the fractions containing most impurities were dissolved and filtered in a fluid filter for full utilization of all propolis present. Aagaard discovered that it is not necessary to extract the individual antibiotics from the propolis but that the substance in its natural form has a powerful curative effect on various diseases such as chronic colitis, pharyngitis, rheumatism, and conjunctivitis (12).
The earliest systematic investigation of the antibacterial activity of propolis was performed by Kivalkina in the1940s. Propolis was shown to have bacteriostatic activity against Streptococcus aureus, the typhoid bacillus, and some other bacteria as well (13). The antimicrobial activity of propolis was also studied by Lindenfelser. In 1967 he examined propolis samples collected in various parts of the USA at different seasons. Of 39 bacterial species that were tested in vitro, 25 proved to have strong inhibitory activity, whereas of the same number of fungus species 20 were inhibited (14).
The antibacterial properties of propolis against a wide spectrum of bacteria were also studied by Scheller in Poland. It was shown that the Coccaceae were sensitive, whereas Candida and Corynebacterium strains were partly sensitive to propolis fractions (15). Several studies in which crude solutions of propolis were tested against a wide range of bacteria have also been were carried out (16).
Propolis has been used in toothpaste and mouthwash preparations to treat gingivitis and stomatitis (17-19).
Antiviral properties of propolis have been known for many years. In studies on Herpes simplex virus infection, in vitro: 0.5% propolis extract caused 50% inhibition of HSV infection, whereas in vivo: as little as 5% propolis prevented the appearance and development of symptoms of HSV-1 infection in animals (20).
Studies on propolis application in genital herpes infection (HSV type 2) prove its effectiveness (21). It has been known for a long time that propolis and its extracts have a positive effect on tissue regeneration (22). Propolis also proved to be effective in the treatment of common cold (23) and chronic tonsillitis (24).
In the 1950s, in experiments on animals it was shown that propolis extract acted as a surface anaesthetic with slight penetrating power and that it can be used in dental practice (25,26). Todorov and others demonstrated that propolis has an infiltrate action equal to that of procaine (27). Tsacov showed that 5% procaine solution of propolis presented a better and quicker action than aqueous alcoholic extract of propolis (28).
Application of ethanol extract of propolis (EEP) promotes the healing processes in damaged cartilage (29) as well as enhances ossification in artificially induced bone defects (30). It was demonstrated that EEP supports regeneration of dental pulp and reduces inflammatory and degenerative processes as well (31). Damyanliev and others presented positive results of the treatment of suppurative surgical wounds with propolis (32).
In orthopaedics where propolis preparations were applied to bones in the cases of purulent inflammation, the inflammatory process was inhibited and osseous tissue was restored (33).
Aripov et al. used propolis in treatment of experimental stomach ulcers (34). In the 1970s Gorbatenko applied a 30% alcohol solution of propolis to treat ulcers in patients (35) and Makarov described propolis treatment of ulcers and pyloroduodenitis (36). Another study applied water-soluble propolis in the treatment of trophic ulcers of the lower extremities in arteriosclerosis obliterans (37). In 1986 Korochkin and Poslavski used propolis in the treatment of chronic gastroduodenal ulcers (38).
Propolis was proven to be useful in dental pulp regeneration (31). Propolis extracts have been widely used in dentistry: in postextraction complications (dry socket), in the treatment of mucous membranes and gingivae. There were also attempts in applying propolis into the treatment of caries and its complications (39), in the treatment of dentinal hypersensitivity (40), in deep parodontopathies, and in the treatment of oral candidiasis (41).
In cases of rheumatic diseases articular injections of saline EEP solutions were used. As a result pain, oedema, and fever disappeared (42). The flavonoids and antioxidant phenols concentrated in propolis are powerful antioxidants and have been shown to be capable of scavenging free radicals which can extensively interfere with normal cell metabolism.
Propolis has also been used in cosmetic products, such as face creams, ointment, lotions, and solutions.
There are reports of allergic reactions to propolis. Propolis should not be used in pregnancy
There is no EMEA monograph for propolis
Keywords; Anti-bacterial/antifungal/antiviral; Anesthetic; Tissue healing; Ulcers; Dentistry
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