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When you think of bee health products, Manuka honey and bee venom no doubt come to mind. However, bees actually produce another beneficial substance known as propolis.

Propolis, also called bee glue and propolis resin, is a natural health product that the insects create in order to coat their hives - both for strength and disinfection. To make it, they collect sap from cone-bearing trees and evergreens, then mix this product with their own discharge to form a greenish-brown, sticky propolis.

This sticky chemical is harvested from bees all over the world. Due to the different trees that the bees use, each country's propolis has its own unique chemical composition, meaning the health benefits can vary from place to place.

The history of propolis

The history of beekeeping and propolis use dates back thousands of years. Beekeeping itself dates back at least 15,000 years, according to a report published by the Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Excavation sites and rock paintings show that early humans used beekeeping equipment.

As for propolis itself, records date its use back to ancient Egyptians times. Bees use the substance to embalm the corpses of invaders who enter the hive, wrapping them up in it so infection does not spread before the carcass is removed. The Egyptians, who revered bees, utilised the same method for their mummification process.

Its medicinal use has been noted by the ancient Greeks as well. Hippocrates, who lived around the turn of 400-300 BC, was said to have used propolis to treat ulcers and other wounds, and Pedanios Dioscorides is said to have used it around 50 BC.

There have also been recorded uses by Aristotle, the Romans and the Assyrians.

Propolis Benefits

So if propolis has been so highly regarded throughout history, what are the actual modern-day health benefits? As you can begin to tell, bee propolis has numerous antibacterial properties, meaning it is commonly used for fighting infections and other bacteria-related ailments.

For starters, New Zealand propolis contains a high amount of a chemical called caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE). This product contains its own beneficial antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic - which hinders the growth of tumours - properties. Though more research is still needed into the subject, both Hindawi and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have attributed positive health benefits to this substance. In fact, a study published by the latter showed that an extract from New Zealand propolis helped suppress tumours in mice.

Alongside that, propolis has been shown to treat certain types of sores and other infection-related skin health problems. The US NLM's MedlinePlus service states that applying chemicals made of at least 3 per cent propolis may help heal and reduce the pain from cold sores, as well as the symptoms of genital herpes.

Studies also show that propolis may assist with ulcers, the common cold, vaginal infections, complications from oral surgeries, stomach disorders and more.

Propolis Side Effects

Currently there has been little research into the side effects of taking propolis, however there are some general precautions you should take in certain circumstances.

If you have an allergy to bees, it is recommended that you avoid taking this product. Also, you should talk to your doctor before beginning propolis use if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, suffer from asthma, or have an allergy to certain types of pine, poplar or other similar tree.

Though more research is needed on the subject, bee products such as propolis have so far proven to be an effective natural antibacterial remedy for numerous maladies. Have you considered taking propolis as a part of your health regime?

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