Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
Bees are our friends. They pollinate the flowers on our fruit trees and crops and collect nectar to make honey. In addition, various claims have been made for a number of diverse bee products.
People claim that honeybee pollen is a perfect food that contains essential amino acids, many vitamins and minerals, and thousands of enzymes in perfect proportions. The enzymes are suggested to promote life and provide healing. It is also claimed that honeybee pollen can slow the aging process, improve stamina and athletic ability, alleviate impotence or sexual dysfunction, promote weight loss, prevent infections, allergies, and cancer, and alleviate many other health problems. Unfortunately, there are no scientific studies to support these claims for bee pollen. The few studies that have been done have shown no benefit of bee pollen for improved athletic performance.
Super-Food for the Queen
Royal jelly, a secretion from the salivary glands of worker bees, serves as the food for larvae that develop into queen bees. Like bee pollen, it has been falsely claimed to be a super food, to provide unusual energy, and to have a wide array of therapeutic properties. False claims for royal jelly include its useful in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, gastrointestinal ulcers, colitis, impotence, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, migraine headaches, and other serious conditions. Other claims made for royal jelly suggest that it increases mental and physical stamina, and improves immune function. Research suggests that the hydroxydecenoic acid found in royal jelly may inhibit tumor growth.
Both bee pollen and royal jelly are potentially dangerous because they can cause allergic reactions. People allergic to specific pollens have developed asthma, gastrointestinal reactions, hives, and anaphylactic shock after ingesting pollen or royal jelly. In some cases the reaction has been fatal. It has been speculated erroneously that the presence of allergens from ragweed and other related flower species might enable regular users of bee pollen to become desensitized.
Bees are exposed to various bacterial and chemical contaminants that might be incorporated in the bee products consumed by humans. Although both bee pollen and royal jelly contain substances with antibiotic properties, both can support the growth of disease-causing organisms and neither has any practical use as an antibiotic.
Propolis, also called bee glue, is a resinous substance collected from trees and used by bees to reinforce and seal their hives. In laboratory tests, propolis has exhibited a variety of antimicrobial properties. However, it has little practical use and can cause a variety of allergic reactions. It may be useful in treating burns, sore throats, and canker sores. It is reported to bring relief to inflammations, treat ulcers, strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of cataract.
Good health, abundant energy, and a long life are not achieved by consuming various bee products. Tests performed on these products have been largely negative.