The beneficial effects of bee pollen are familiar, and many of us are already taking advantage of this “superfood” by regularly consuming bee pollen as a food supplement. However, bees produce several other byproducts that can be equally beneficial.
Propolis is one such byproduct; this is a resinous substance that honey bees collect from various sources, including tree buds and sap flows. Bees use this resin as a sealant in their hives, usually to fill in small gaps that are 6 millimeters wide or less. (Bees use beeswax to plug larger gaps.) Propolis can be sticky at room temperatures; when it’s cold out, propolis gets hard and brittle.
Bees themselves derive tremendous benefit from propolis. It reinforces the structural stability of their beehives. It makes the hives more easily defended, preventing parasites from entering. It reduces vibrations within the hive. The chemical content of propolis can vary depending on region; generally, it is 55 percent resins and balms (such as flavonoids), 30 percent fatty acids and waxes, 10 percent essential oils, and 5 percent protein, in the form of bee pollen. There are various trace elements and other nutrients present as well.
For humans, the primary benefit of propolis is as an antibiotic. The bioflavonoids present in propolis strengthen the body’s immune system, enhancing our resistance to disease; propolis supplements the effectiveness of vitamin C and stimulates enzyme formation. Some research suggests that propolis can act against the various bacteria that cause pneumonia, salmonellosis, influenza, herpes, tuberculosis, and other diseases. It can also act as an antifungal agent.
Chemically, propolis works in a fashion similar to prescription antibiotics, by breaking down the walls and cytoplasm of bacteria cells and preventing bacterial cell division. However, because it is a natural substance, propolis can be part of a preventative health care program and can be taken daily. There are no known side effects, though if you are allergic to bee stings or tree resin, consult with a health care practitioner before taking propolis. The body cannot build up a natural resistance to propolis as it can to prescription medications. And propolis has been shown to counteract some viruses and fungi as well as bacteria.
Propolis is readily available in capsules or tablets. However, you can consume propolis in its raw state by purchasing chunks, which have usually been cold-processed to remove beeswax and impurities; chew the raw propolis and wash it down with some water. (This can also help relieve a sore throat.) The taste is strong and bitter, so it might be easier to mix propolis with fruit juice, honey, or milk. Do NOT mix propolis with coffee, tea, or a carbonated beverage; these drinks may impede the effectiveness of propolis.
Propolis is sold in various other forms, for other purposes. Propolis cream provides both the germ-killing properties of propolis and the healing properties of aloe vera; you can apply propolis cream as a skin moisturizer or to heal skin irritations, cuts, and burns. Propolis mouthwash can help prevent bad breath and gum problems, and shorten healing time after oral surgery. Usually, propolis mouthwash is heavily concentrated and sold in small vials; mix a few drops in a half-glass of water and drink.
While bee pollen is primarily seen as a source of supplementary nutrition, propolis is consumed for prevention and treatment of disease, as an antibiotic. They share some ingredients, but these two bee byproducts are complementary and can be taken simultaneously. There are several products on the market, in fact, that combine bee pollen with propolis in capsule form. While easy to consume, the process of encapsulation may compromise the full effectiveness of bee pollen.
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