There's a lot of buzz about the health benefits of bee pollen and royal jelly, but apart from being good for bees, are there any real benefits for people?
There’s a lot of buzz about the health benefits of bee pollen and royal jelly, but apart from being good for bees, are there any real benefits for people?
Bee pollen may be among the oldest known dietary supplements. Its use as a medicine is said to date back to the early Chinese and Egyptians. Hippocrates wrote about and may have used it as a healing substance some 2,500 years ago.
Bee pollen is actually flower pollen that sticks to the legs and body of the honey bees as they collect nectar from the inside of flowers. Beekeepers attach a special wire mesh, called a pollen trap, to the front of the beehive to facilitate collection of the pollen. As the bees walk along the screen to enter the hive, some of the pollen falls off and is collected in a pan below.
Pollen grains contain nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals as well as phytonutrients including flavonoids and polyphenols–known to have antioxidant activity.
One bee pollen manufacturer tested its bee pollen using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test and determined that their pollen had an ORAC value well beyond that of wild blueberries, which has one of the highest ORAC scores.
While impressive and potentially exciting from a health perspective, this result has yet to be duplicated. The research on bee pollen is very limited, but animal studies show that pollen can protect against oxidative and free-radical damage, the effects of harmful radiation, as well as toxic exposure to chemical solvents.
The Royal Treatment
Royal jelly plays a pivotal role in the development of honeybee larvae. Produced by glands in worker bees’ heads, royal jelly is used to feed all of the larvae in the colony, including those destined to be workers, for the first two to three days of their development.
After that time the nurses continue to give the larval queens only royal jelly while the worker larvae receive a mixture of jelly, pollen, and honey. This allows the queen to develop her reproductive organs while the female workers become sterile.
The queen grows 40 to 60 percent larger than the other bees and lives for approximately five to six years compared to the worker bee lifespan of about six weeks. This dramatic difference is what lends royal jelly its reputation as a rejuvenating elixir.
Anecdotal evidence of the benefits of royal jelly for humans abounds; however, there have been only a small number of human trials, so it is difficult to know with much certainty the long-term benefits and effects of daily consumption.
Three human studies used double-blind procedure and an oral preparation of royal jelly. It was found that royal jelly in amounts of 50 to 100 mg per day reduced total cholesterol by about 14 percent in people with moderately high cholesterol levels.
More recent test tube and animal studies have shown that royal jelly demonstrates high antioxidant activity as well as the ability to stimulate the production of type I collagen and other activities for bone formation through action on osteoblasts.
We do know that royal jelly contains approximately 12 percent protein and 12 to 15 percent carbohydrate. It also contains all of the B vitamins, including a high concentration of pantothenic acid (B5) and pyridoxine (B6), both of which are involved in energy production and metabolism in the body.
Royal jelly and bee pollen could prove harmful for those individuals allergic to bee stings, honey, or ragweed pollen, which is present in bee pollen. Anyone with extreme allergic responses to bee stings should avoid these products.