A clinical pharmacological study of the potential beneficial effects of a propolis food product as an adjuvant in asthmatic patients

Authors


* Correspondence and reprints: mtkhayyal@hotmail.com

Abstract

The aqueous extract of propolis has been formulated as a nutritional food product and administered, as an adjuvant to therapy, to patients with mild to moderate asthma daily for 2 months in the framework of a comparative clinical study in parallel with a placebo preparation. The diagnosis of asthma was made according to the criteria of patient classification of the National Institutes of Health and Global Initiative for Asthma Management. At inclusion, the pulmonary forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) as a percentage of the forced vital capacity (FVC) was more than 80% in mild persistent cases, and between 60 and 80% in moderate persistent cases, showing an increase in the degree of reversibility of > 15% in FEV1. All patients were on oral theophylline as controller therapy, none was receiving oral or inhaled corticosteroids, none had other comorbidities necessitating medical treatment, and all were from a middle-class community and had suffered from asthma for the last 2–5 years. Twenty-four patients received the placebo, with one drop-out during the study, while 22 received the propolis extract, with no drop-outs. The age range of the patients was 19–52 years; 36 were male and 10 female. The number of nocturnal attacks was recorded on a weekly basis, while pulmonary function tests were performed on all patients at the beginning of the trial, 1 month later and at the termination of the trial. Immunological parameters, including various cytokines and eicosanoids known to play a role in asthma, were measured in all patients at the beginning of the trial and 2 months later. Analysis of the results at the end of the clinical study revealed that patients receiving propolis showed a marked reduction in the incidence and severity of nocturnal attacks and improvement of ventilatory functions. The number of nocturnal attacks dropped from an average of 2.5 attacks per week to only 1. The improvement in pulmonary functions was manifested as a nearly 19% increase in FVC, a 29.5% increase in FEV1, a 30% increase in peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), and a 41% increase in the forced expiratory flow rate between 25 and 75% of the vital capacity (FEF25-75). The clinical improvement was associated with decreases by 52, 65, 44 and 30%, respectively, of initial values for the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, ICAM-1, interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8, and a 3-fold increase in the ‘protective’ cytokine IL-10. The levels of prostaglandins E2 and F and leukotriene D4 were decreased significantly to 36, 39, and 28%, respectively, of initial values. Patients on the placebo preparation showed no significant improvement in ventilatory functions or in the levels of mediators. The findings suggest that the aqueous propolis extract tested is potentially effective as an adjuvant to therapy in asthmatic patients. The benefits may be related to the presence in the extract of caffeic acid derivatives and other active constituents.

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