A surprise discovery: Vietnam’s propolis can help treat cancer

VietNamNet Bridge - Dr Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, Dean of Chemistry, at the HCMC University of Natural Sciences, has discovered that Vietnam’s propolis has very strong anti-cancer activity, especially for pancreatic cancer.



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Dr Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai




Biologically, propolis is a mixture of resins and secretions from the honey bee’s salivary gland, which is flexible and glutinous at high temperatures but hard and fragile at low temperatures. 

Studies have found more than 149 compounds and 22 different types of minerals in propolis. These compounds have many biological activities: antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.

Most of the products made of propolis take full advantage of its antibacterial characteristics. Bees use propolis to stabilize the structure of the nest, reduce vibration, mend tears and cracks of the nest. This strengthens the defense of the nest by blocking the entrance, prevents parasites and invasive bacteria, restricts the development of bacteria, fungi, and prevents any possibility of spreading harmful disease.

The best known propolis products available in the market are from South American countries, including Green Propolis which has very strong antibacterial activity, used to prevent flu. 

Vietnam’s propolis has weaker antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. However, Vietnam’s propolis has very strong anti-cancer activity, especially pancreatic cancer. 

Mai and her co-workers found that the propolis of Apis mellifera, which is raised in Vietnam, has flavonoid and polyphenol compounds much lower than the Brazilian honey bee, by 3-10 times. 

Therefore, Vietnam’s propolis has weaker antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. However, Vietnam’s propolis has very strong anti-cancer activity, especially pancreatic cancer. 

According to Mai, her team is joining forces with the research team led by Prof Suresh Awale from Toyama University in Japan to carry out new research used specifically for pancreas cancer cells. If the experiments and treatment mechanism can be clarified, this would be used as medicine for the treatment of pancreas cancer in the future. 

Initial studies found that the propolis from the bees raised in the western part of the southern region contain much cycloartane triterpene which can poison pancreas cells.

To find out why Vietnam’s propolis contains a lot of triterpene, Mai and her team analysed the chemical elements of mango plants, which is the major source of food for honey bee farms. And they found that mango plants also contain much cycloartane triterpene and have a cytotoxic effect on pancreatic cancer cells.

With the discovery, scientists have shown that Vietnam’s propolis has a value different from Brazilian propolis and that it is necessary to carry out further research to develop medicine to support the treatment of pancreas cancer.

According to Mai, in order to obtain active ingredients such as flavonoids, polyphenols and triterpene from propolis, it is necessary to use heat extraction method or immersion in alcohol and apply certain steps to refine propolis.


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Kim Chi

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