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Dentists abuzz over cavity-prevention potential of honeybee product

Dentists from the University of Rochester Medical Center and food scientists at State University of Campinas in Brazil have discovered that a substance that Brazilian honeybees make to protect their hives might prove to be a potent anti-cavity agent.

The substance is propolis, a sticky material like glue that bees make to hold their hives together. Bees create the brew by collecting secretions from trees and other plants, carrying them back to the hive, chewing up the materials, then spitting the concoction out and mixing it with beeswax. In a hive, the substance is used to seal holes, keep the hive clean, and even to embalm dead insects.

In laboratory tests, the most potent version of the substance, from southern Brazil, cut the cavity rate in rats by about 60 percent, and nearly stopped the activity of a key enzyme that forms dental plaque. Dentists say that since rats get cavities the same way as humans do, and the same substances that prevent cavities in the animals also prevent cavities in humans, theyre enthusiastic about the potential of the substance to prevent cavities in people. Dentists hope to test the substance on human volunteers. The link between hive and health was first noted by Michel Hyun Koo, D.D.S., Ph.D., who earned his dental degree in Brazil and then decided to study food biochemistry. Thanks in part to active honeybee research across campus at State University of Campinas, Koo began studying propolis and soon was traveling around Brazil collecting the material from hives, using a device like a putty knife to scrape the dark yellow or brown, caulk-like substance from hives. His first experience left him barely able to walk, as he received about two dozen stings around his ankles from angry bees because his black socks triggered the bees defensive behavior.

Brushing the pain aside, Koo persisted, focusing on the cavity-fighting potential of propolis as he earned his masters degree in food science and his doctor
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Contact: Tom Rickey
trickey@admin.rochester.edu
716-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
29-Aug-2001


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