Propolis, or bee glue, is a mixture of substances used by bees to defend the hive. As noted in a review by Przybyłek & Karpiński (2019), propolis has significant antimicrobial properties against human pathogens; properties which have been known since antiquity. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were aware of the healing properties of propolis and made extensive use of it as a medicine (Kuropatnicki et al 2013).
The healing properties of propolis
In their review, Pasupuleti et al (2017) reported antifungal and antibacterial activities of propolis, due to its components such as flavonoids, phenolic compounds, terpenes, and enzymes. Of the 500 chemical compounds found in propolis, flavonoids are the major constituents, responsible for its pharmacological activities (Huang et al 2014). Propolis is also a good source of nutrients such as vitamins B1, B2, B6, vitamin C and E and minerals such as magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), potassium (K), sodium (Na), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and iron (Fe) (Pasupuleti et al 2017).
The activity of propolis depends on its chemical composition, which depends on the place of origin, hence its properties are different in individual countries (Huang et al 2014). According to Przybyłek & Karpiński (2019) propolis from the Middle East was found to have high antimicrobial activity, while the lowest activity was demonstrated for propolis samples from Germany, Ireland and Korea.
Antiviral properties of propolis
Recent research by Silva-Beltrán et al (2019) demonstrated that Brazilian red and green propolis extracts possess potent antiviral activity, depending on both the process of extraction and the type of propolis (the red and green propolis treated with ultrasound showed greater antiviral activities than the propolis treated with ethanol).
Earlier studies carried out by Kai et al (2014) found that ethanol extracts from Brazilian propolis exhibited anti-influenza virus activity in vitro and in vivo. Human studies have also demonstrated that oral use of propolis may reduce the duration of the symptoms of the common cold (Kuropatnicki et al 2013). As reported by Tao et al (2014), propolis flavonoids enhance the phagocytic function of macrophages (large white blood cells) that engulf particles such as virus and bacteria and then ‘eat’ and destroy them. As dysfunctional macrophages may contribute to frequent infections, their phagocytic actions are of paramount importance.
Animal studies on Herpes simplex virus infection by Huleihel & Istanu (2002) demonstrated that administration of propolis before or at the time of infection yielded the most significant inhibitory effect. The authors concluded that the potent antiviral activity of propolis against Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (HSV-) infection may be due to prevention of virus entry into the host cells and/or inhibition of an internal step(s) during the viral replication cycle.
Dietary strategies to boost immunity
While propolis can be a useful supplement for some individuals, to better support your immune system it is also important to consider your dietary choices. In addition to the above, it is important that you read labels and avoid Western style diet characterized by a high content of processed / ‘fast foods’, saturated fats, refined grains, sugary soft drinks, alcohol, salt & food additives (Varlamov 2017), while lacking fibres, vitamins, and minerals (Christ et al 2019), vital for immunity.
To boost your immune system it is advisable to follow an antioxidant-rich Mediterranean diet characterized by the abundant consumption of olive oil, high consumption of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, pulses, cereals, nuts and seeds); moderate intake of wine (mainly with meals); moderate consumption of fish, seafood, yogurt, cheese, poultry and eggs; and low consumption of red meat and processed meat products (Serra-Majem et al 2019).
References available on the request.
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