Did You Know… that a mysterious substance used by bees may be a potent weapon against cancer?
Propolis is a natural resin that originates from young tree buds. Honeybees collect propolis and use it to mend holes in hives and protect their colonies against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Since antiquity, healers have used propolis to treat the common cold, sore throats, burns, allergies, and more. Recent research from the University of Chicago Medical Center points to the benefits of propolis for a more serious condition—cancer.
Propolis Halts Cancer Cell Growth
Interested in better understanding the antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties of propolis, University of Chicago Medical Center researchers tested the substance’s effects on prostate cancer cells.
Researchers isolated one of propolis’s anti-cancer bioactive components—caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE). They treated in vitro prostate cancer cells with small doses of CAPE, which subsequently slowed the growth of these tumor cells! CAPE also demonstrated an anti-cancer effect when fed to mice with prostate tumors. Tumor growth in mice slowed by a remarkable 50%, and treating mice with CAPE daily halted tumor growth entirely. However, once treatment ceased, the tumors went right back to work growing and proliferating.
These findings suggest that propolis does not kill the cancer cells but rather slows their development and dissemination by interrupting the signaling networks that control their growth. However, four other studies have indicated that propolis can indeed induce cancer cell death, a process called apoptosis.
Brazilian researchers showed that propolis can impact human laryngeal epidermoid carcinoma (cancer of the larynx). They incubated varying concentrations of bee propolis for different lengths of time and then examined the number of cancer cells left. Results showed that the propolis was able to destroy cancer cells according to dose and time.
Two components of propolis, CAPE and artepillin (ARC), have been proven to block blood supply to tumors. When a tumor’s access to blood is cut off, it doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to grow. CAPE and ARC also exhibit high antioxidant activity, a prohibitive influence on cancer.
Propolis Treats Neurofibrotosis
In 2009, scientists at Universitaets Klinikum Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany tested the effects of propolis on neurofibromatosis tumor growth in cancer patients. Neurofibromatosis is a condition that can trigger the growth of tumors on nerve tissue throughout the body, including the brain and spinal cord. Neurofibromatosis tumors depend on the gene PAK1 for growth—as do 70% of all human cancers, including breast cancer. Results from the study confirmed that both CAPE and ARC blocked cancer-causing PAK1 signaling pathways, thereby suppressing tumor growth.
Researchers are knee-deep in studying the anti-cancer potential of propolis on neurofibromatosis, melanoma, and pancreatic cancers. Although research is still preliminary, the majority of cancer patients participating in the studies are exhibiting no further tumor growth.
Such promise is incredibly exciting. Researchers are optimistic that the anti-cancer mechanisms in propolis may extend to other PAK1-dependent diseases such as AIDS and Fragile X mental retardation syndrome.