By Kim O’Hare
There has been a lot of buzz lately about the benefits of bee pollen and royal jelly. What’s it all about?
The use of bee pollen, one of the oldest known dietary supplements, is said to date back to the early Chinese and Egyptians. Hippocrates wrote about its healing properties 2,500 years ago. Bee pollen is simply flower pollen that sticks to bees’ legs as they flit from flower to flower in search of nectar. Beekeepers attach a special mesh to the hives, as the bees enter the hive the pollen is knocked off and is collected. Think of it as a tiny door mat in front of the hive.
It turns out the pollen contains all sorts of things such as carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals as well as several ingredients that are known to act as anti-oxidants. There is a standard test known among scientists as the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity test used to measure anti-oxidants. The ORAC value of pollen was far beyond that of blueberries, considered by some to be about the best source of anti-oxidants available.
Research into bee pollen is very limited but animal studies show it can protect against oxidative and free radical damage, the effects of harmful radiation as well as toxic exposure to certain chemical solvents.
Royal jelly plays an important role in the development of honey bee larvae. It is produced in the glands of worker bees and is used to feed the larvae in the colony for the first few days of their development.
After that time, nurse bees 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 worker bees become sterile. That’s why the queen bee grows to about 50 per cent larger than the workers and lives five to six years compared to the average life of about six weeks for a worker bee. That’s the basis for the folklore surrounding royal jelly’s reputation as a rejuvenating elixir.
There are volumes of anecdotal evidence about the human health benefits of royal jelly but there have been only a few scientific human studies, so it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Three human studies used double-blind procedures and an oral preparation of royal jelly in amounts of 50 and 100 mg per day. It was found that total cholesterol was reduced by about 14 per cent among participants who had previously recorded high cholesterol levels.
More recent studies have shown that royal jelly demonstrates high antioxidant activities well as the ability to stimulate the production of type I collagen. It is believed that royal jelly contains about 12 per cent protein and about 15 per cent carbohydrate. It also contains all of the B vitamins.
Until further studies are carried out it, the whole bee pollen/royal jelly discussion will be inconclusive. There’s a note of caution though; both could prove harmful to people who tend to have allergic reactions to bee stings, honey or ragweed pollen. Anyone with severe allergic reaction to bee stings should avoid both bee pollen and royal jelly.