Propolis, a waxy substance produced by the honeybee, has been adopted as a form of folk medicine since ancient times. It has a wide spectrum of alleged applications including potential anti-infection and anticancer effects.
Many of the therapeutic effects can be attributed to its immunomodulatory functions. The composition of propolis can vary according to the geographic locations from where the bees obtained the ingredients.
Two main immunopotent chemicals have been identified as caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) and artepillin C. Propolis, CAPE, and artepillin C have been shown to exert summative immunosuppressive function on T lymphocyte subsets but paradoxically activate macrophage function. On the other hand, they also have potential antitumor properties by different postulated mechanisms such as suppressing cancer cells proliferation via its anti-inflammatory effects; decreasing the cancer stem cell populations; blocking specific oncogene signaling pathways; exerting antiangiogenic effects; and modulating the tumor microenvironment.
The good bioavailability by the oral route and good historical safety profile makes propolis an ideal adjuvant agent for future immunomodulatory or anticancer regimens. However, standardized quality controls and good design clinical trials are essential before either propolis or its active ingredients can be adopted routinely in our future therapeutic armamentarium.