Propolis is a resinous mixture of pollen and beewax collected by honeybees from the buds and exudates of certain trees and plants (1). It has been used in folk medicine and in food and beverages to improve health and to prevent disease. Propolis is thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunostimulatory, antiproliferative, cardioprotective, and radioprotective properties (2) (3).
Clinical data show propolis to be an effective adjuvant treatment for asthma (4) and for the treatment of plane and common warts, possibly due to its immunomodulating and antiviral properties (5). A propolis/zinc suspension reduced the number of acute otitis media infections in children (6).
An in vitro study found propolis to have greater cytotoxic activity against human lung adenocarcinoma (A549) and human fibrosarcoma (HT-1080) cells compared to 5-fluorouracil (7). However, the anticancer effects of propolis have not been confirmed in humans.
Bee pollen, a constituent of propolis, is a mixture of plant pollens, nectar, and bee saliva that bees form into granules to store as food (8). It is claimed as a “cure all” by some and is touted for its antiaging and stamina increasing properties, antioxidant effects, and for chronic prostatitis, among other conditions. Aside from its nutritional value, clinical data show that bee pollen has limited benefits in improving athletic performance (9) (10).
The use of propolis and bee pollen is relatively benign. However, hypersensitivity reactions to each of these supplements have been reported. Patients who are allergic to bee venom (i.e., bee stings), honey, ragweed, or chrysanthemum should not take these products. A case study reported that bee pollen may elevate the international normalized ratio (INR) above the therapeutic range in patients taking warfarin (8).