Stingless bees are a type of honey producers that commonly live in tropical countries. Their use for honey is being abandoned due to its limited production.
Although there are many stingless bee species that produce a wide spread of products, known since old eras in traditional medicine, the modern medical community is still missing more investigational studies on stingless bee products.
Whereas comprehensive studies in the current era attest to the biological and medicinal properties of honeybee (Apis mellifera) products, the properties of stingless bee products are less known.
Highlights for the first time the medicinal benefits of stingless bee products (honey, propolis, pollen and cerumen), recent investigations and promising future directions.The potential antioxidant properties of these products that in turn play a vital role in preventing and treating diseases associated with oxidative stress, microbial infections and inflammatory disorders. Summarizing all these data and insights in one manuscript may increase the commercial value of stingless bee products as a food ingredient.
Stingless bees (Meliponines) belong to the genus Apidae, which is a family of social bees from the superfamily Apoidea. Stingless bees are the highest developed species of bees that have been identified in 80 million years old parts of amber.
Reports of ancient populations using honey both for nutritional and medicinal properties can be traced back to nearly 5500 years ago. Hand collecting honey bees was an important traditional practice in many ancient populations as it was the only way to get honey and it still persists among some people in forest areas.
To date there are more than 500 known stingless bee species, of which approximately 40 species have good potential as honey producers. Constructing nests in hollow tree trunks or roots, soil cavities or empty animal narrow nests is typical for many stingless bee honey (SBH) producer species. As pollinators, stingless bees play an important role in the forest ecosystem by strongly influencing plant community, diversity and evolution.
The most common species producing SBH are classified under two main genera, Melipona and Trigona. While stingless bees are one of the most common types of honey producers, the distribution of SBH is lower compared to the more common honey produced by Apis mellifera bees (European/Western bees or honeybees), which has been associated with the limited data about SBH production and its properties.
It is believed that stingless bee products are superior promising sources of biologically active compounds over honeybees, and this can be attributed to the rich vegetation in the tropical and subtropical regions where stingless bees are found. In addition, stingless bees have some principal characteristics that make them unique compared to honeybees, for example they are less vulnerable to disease.
Recent evidence indicates that SBH has potential therapeutic benefits in several contexts, including wound healing, diabetes mellitus, eye diseases, hypertension, fertility defects, cancer, microbial infection and dysregulated lipid profiles. Therefore, promoting the research on SBH would help improve the knowledge on its putative medicinal properties and ensure the conservation of SBH trade.
It is important to note that stingless bee products are not restricted to honey, but can involve several products including propolis, beebread, cerumen and bee pollen. Although these are not as common as honey, studies have reported several medicinal properties in those products too.
Based on a comparison between the studies on stingless bees and honeybees, a significant gap in research on stingless bee products has been identified compared to the common honeybee products that are well-studied.
To improve the awareness on the stingless bee, its products, properties, benefits and future opportunities, this manuscript provides a comprehensive review and recent updates on the medicinal properties of stingless bee products.
Stingless Bee Honey
The health benefits of SBH can be broadly classified as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anticancer and antimicrobial properties.
Antioxidant Activity of SBH
The antioxidant activity assay for any product is based on the capability of the compounds to inhibit oxidation, thus reducing production of free radicals that result in a chain reaction causing harmful cellular alterations.
Studies have reported that antioxidant activity is significantly correlated with several healing properties, such as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer and anti-obesity activities. This is not surprising given the role of antioxidants in oxidative stress/damage is well-known and is implicated in a wide range of diseases.
Higher antioxidant activities have been correlated to honeys with darker colors, as the dark color derives from different pigment compounds such as flavonoids, carotenoids and phenolic compounds, the compounds that provide antioxidant properties to honey.
The antioxidant effects of SBH have been shown in a study conducted on a diabetic rat model. Animals underwent treatment with SBH, which caused increased levels of superoxide dismutase and glutathione (antioxidant enzymes), whereas protein carbonyl and malondialdehyde (biomarkers of oxidative stress) levels decreased in their sperms and testis, thus, improving the quality of their sperm.
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