Bee Cancer Free? Honey-bee products studied for anticancer potential

Bee products including propolis, royal jelly and honey could one day be used to help prevent cancer, say Croatian researchers. They report that these bee products significantly decreased tumour growth and spreading of the cancer (metastasis) in mice when they were applied orally or by injection.

Nada Orsolic and colleagues tested both the preventative and curative effects of the bee products on tumour models in mice.

“The effects of the tested compounds were demonstrated either by inhibition of tumour growth or metastases (secondary tumour) formation and by increased survival of the animals,” said Dr Orsolic.

Propolis, a resin-like substance used in the construction of honeycombs, and a chemical found in propolis called caffeic acid significantly reduced subcutaneous tumour growth and prolonged the survival of mice. Honey also inhibited the spread of the tumour. Royal jelly, used as food for young bee larvae, also significantly inhibited tumour spread when injected at the same time as tumour cells.

How the bee products work to combat the tumours is not clear, but the authors suggest they cause apoptosis (cell suicide) or necrosis of the cancerous cells, or that they exert directly toxic or immune-enhancing effects.

“These results suggest the benefits of potential clinical trials using propolis or honey, combined with chemotherapeutic agents,” said Dr Orsolic.

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Dec 3, 2004