A MYSTERIOUS substance, made by bees and used by ancient Egyptians, has the potential to save millions of lives – and its miraculous properties are being uncovered in Whitby.
Honey bees use propolis to seal their hive by filling tiny gaps between the larger honeycomb structure and the substance has long been a traditional cure in Eastern medicine for mild ailments such as mouth ulcers or sore throats, but James Fearnley of Bee Vital believes that it actually holds the key to the future of medicine.
At Nature’s Laboratory on Enterprise Way, James explained his wide-ranging vision for propolis, including treatment for a variety of life-threatening diseases and even a potential cure for cancer.
“I am convinced that in bee hives we have the future of medicine,” he said. “We think drugs are sophisticated because we have put a lot of time and effort into them, but we are on the wrong track.”
The World Health Organisation has recently warned that more and more diseases are becoming resistant to antibiotics and a “doomsday” scenario is a serious possibility.
It may soon become a reality that the drugs stop working and alternatives to artificial drugs are needed.
This is where Bee Vital is hoping to step in.
“If a bee collects pollen in an area where there’s sleeping sickness, they also collect a chemical which acts against it,” he said. “The bees are taking the plant’s response to the disease and using it themselves.”
A beehive is comparable to the human body, with a similar internal temperature, and this means that a lot of what works for the bees also works for humans. So a person treated with propolis, produced in an area affected by sleeping sickness, could receive the same protection that the bees receive.
A self-confessed “old hippy”, James moved to Whitby in 1992 to establish a health shop, and he became interested in bee products when a beekeeper friend introduced him to their potential.
However, despite the publication of five peer-reviewed scientific papers, the main battle that he must fight is Western scepticism towards traditional treatments, despite the fact 80% of the world relies solely on medicines found naturally.
The instant early successes of antibiotics and chemical drugs have meant that people have become over-reliant on them, unaware that viruses and bacterium immediately began fighting back.
James explained: “Antibiotics can immediately kill bacteria for about 18 months until the bacteria decode them. Now we’ve got to the point where we can’t invent antibiotics quickly enough.
“But bacterium can’t decode a natural product. I think this is the new medicine, I think this is the way forward. The drugs don’t work”.
To really develop the potential of propolis, James has unveiled plans to construct a £250,000 research centre in Goathland, ideally placed as it sits at the centre of one of the largest heather moors in the world – great for bees.
“The building is going to be a symbol that this is not ‘Mickey Mouse’,” he said.
The research will take a fundamental step away from pharmaceutical companies, who work to isolate individual chemicals and replicate them.
Instead, Bee Vital, in conjunction with the University of Bradford, is working to develop the “whole orchestra” to promote greater health as a whole.
James said: “Ninety per cent of all pharmaceuticals are derived from plants. The companies see in the plants thousands of different chemicals and they think I wonder what makes this plant work? The thinking is: Let’s find the single thing that does it, synthesise it, make lots of it and make a ton of money. Antibiotics are like taking the big guns and blasting everything, not caring about the by-standers.”
While antibiotics lead dramatic counter attacks, destroying invading bacterium, natural products instead put up higher defences, increasing the body’s capacity to naturally defend itself.
“Your body’s doing it all the time but we have forgotten how to look after ourselves,” added James. Instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle it would be better to not let it get out of hand.”
With a medicinal arms race taking place between antibiotics and the bacterium they battle, an alternative may be needed sooner rather than later, and the world class science that is taking place in Whitby may mean that soon we may all see the benefit of bees.