A mouthwash made from a material bees use to waterproof their hives could help combat high blood pressure and gum disease.
The key ingredient is propolis, a waxy material produced by bees to seal their hives against rain and intruders. It’s long been used in medicine for its natural antiseptic qualities.
Research from the University of Plymouth now suggests propolis can lower blood pressure. It does this by encouraging the activity and volume of bacteria found naturally in the mouth, which convert nitrates in food into nitrite, a compound that widens blood vessels and so lowers blood pressure.
‘We know that the make-up and activity of oral bacteria is very important in maintaining blood pressure at normal levels,’ says Dr Raul Bescos, who is testing the mouthwash on 50 volunteers at the University of Plymouth.
The team is also investigating whether the mouthwash containing propolis could help fight gum disease, after previous research suggested it could.
Some 16 million Britons have high blood pressure, which, if left untreated, can treble the odds of heart attacks and strokes. It can also damage the kidneys and may raise the risk of dementia.
Blood pressure is usually treated with medication, but patients often stop taking this because of side-effects such as fatigue or nausea — or simply because they don’t feel ill enough to take the medication (high blood pressure is usually symptomless).
The new treatment could prove to be an easy-to-use alternative.
Propolis is made by bees from a mix of saliva, beeswax and material harvested from plants. Used in the building and preservation of hives, the brown, sticky substance kills bugs, protects the honey- comb from rain and keeps out would-be invaders.
Participants in the trial will use either a propolis mouthwash or a conventional mouthwash twice a day for a week.
It is hoped the propolis will boost the numbers and activity of nitrite-producing bacteria in the mouth, causing blood pressure to fall. The researchers will analyse the participants’ mouth bacteria at the beginning and end of the study.
Dr Punit Ramrakha, a consultant cardiologist at Hammersmith Hospital in London, says: ‘Study after study has shown that people who have poor oral health, such as gum disease or tooth loss, have higher rates of cardiovascular problems than people with good oral health.
‘This new work from the team at the University of Plymouth is looking to see if modifying the bacterial flora in the mouth can have a beneficial effect on the individual’s blood pressure, and the use of propolis for this is inspired and unique.
‘We eagerly await the results of the clinical trial and, if positive, this will be another example of how important bees are for human survival.’
* Fruit and vegetables intake can lower blood pressure, but fats increase it, according to researchers from Wuhan University in China. They tracked the health of more than 4 000 adults for a decade, during which time around 1 000 developed high blood pressure.
When their diets were compared, the researchers found that people with the highest fat intake were 40 per cent more likely to develop high blood pressure, reports the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Meanwhile those who also had high fat intake and low fruit and vegetable consumption, the risk was almost double. ‘High fruit and vegetable intake may offset the detrimental effect of fat intake on hypertension,’ said the researchers.