Published: September 2010

Complementary corner: Propolis - reports of hypersensitivity reactions

Prescriber Update 31(3): 22
September 2010

Healthcare professionals are advised to consider the uncertain benefits of propolis versus the risk of developing hypersensitivity reactions or renal failure before recommending its use to patients.

This advice follows a review of international adverse reaction reports that identified several cases of hypersensitivity reactions in people using complementary medicines containing propolis.1 Patients with a history of allergies appeared to be at particular risk of these reactions. Propolis has also been implicated in cases of acute renal failure.2,3

Propolis is a resinous mixture collected by honey bees from tree buds, sap and other botanical sources. It is marketed as a traditional medicine for the relief of a wide variety of conditions, including inflammation, viral diseases, ulcers, superficial burns and scalds; however none of these claims have been confirmed by clinical studies published in the biomedical literature.4

The composition of propolis depends, among other factors, on geographical location and season; a 'typical' propolis may contain around 50 constituents including resins, vegetable balsams, waxes, essential oils and pollen.

Healthcare professionals are also reminded to ask patients about their use of OTC and complementary medicines, and to report any adverse reactions to CARM.

  1. Anon 2010. Propolis: Hypersensitivity reactions. Revue Prescrire; 30(317):190-1.
  2. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency "Adverse drug reactions online information tracking. Drug analysis print" September 2009. (accessed 2 November 2009).
  3. CARN 1 January 2009. Propolis: suspected association with renal failure. Canadian Adverse Reaction Newsletter 19(1):3. (accessed 16 August 2010).
  4. MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US).Propolis. Available from: www.nlm.nih. gov/medlineplus/ (accessed 1 September 2010).