By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (June 1, 2006)—Women suffering from a common vaginal infection might find relief from douching with propolis a bee product. In fact, propolis might be a better choice than antibiotics for treating vaginitis because it does not appear to cause an imbalance of vaginal bacteria.
As many as 75% of women will experience vaginitis in their lifetime, and in 40 to 50% of these women, infections will recur. The symptoms of vaginitis—vaginal discharge, itching, burning, and pain during intercourse—can cause emotional distress and compromise quality of life.
Any disruption in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria can cause vaginitis. Infectious bacteria and fungi (including yeast, usually Candida species) are common culprits. Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment when the vaginitis is caused by bacteria, but the high rate of recurrence suggests that this approach isn’t an ideal solution. In fact, antibiotics can further disrupt colonies of normal bacteria and perpetuate overgrowth of fungi or infectious bacteria.
Propolis is a gluey substance produced by honey bees to construct and maintain their hives. Waxes and pollen grains make up much of its substance, but it is also rich in bioflavonoids (antioxidant compounds that often give plants color) and aromatic oils from the flowers near the beehive.
People have used propolis as a medicinal agent to treat infections and promote wound healing for centuries. Propolis has a number of medicinal properties attributed to its bioflavonoids and aromatic oils: it strengthens the immune system, has numbing and soothing effects, and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
Research published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics suggests that a propolis douche could effectively treat recurrent vaginitis. In the study, 54 women with vaginitis douched with 30 ml (about 1 ounce) of a 5% propolis solution once per day for seven days. One week after finishing treatment, 87% of the women reported symptom improvement. The make-up of the vaginal microflora (bacteria and fungi) had shifted toward normal in 75.9% of the women. Six months later, more than 70% of the women who improved reported not needing any further treatment.
All of the women had used antibiotics to treat their vaginitis at least once in the six months prior to the study, but the treatment had either failed or a new infection had occurred. Proplis is not known to cause the formation of drug-resistant bacteria, which occurs with frequent antibiotic use.
“This is a big problem with treating bacterial vaginosis. The treatment can actually leave the woman more susceptible to recurrent infection or other vaginal problems, especially yeast infections,” said Laurie Foster, a nurse-midwife who treats women with vaginitis. “Natural remedies often bring equal or better results with fewer side effects.”
Research aimed at identifying the specific infectious bacteria and fungi that propolis is most effective against will help women and their clinicians to decide when douching with propolis is a good treatment option.
(Int J Gynecol Obstet 2005;89:127–32)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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