PRoyal jelly isn’t the only treasure from the honeybee hive that might contribute to human health.
Ponce de LeÃ³n, the Spanish explorer, might have been wiser to search for a beehive than for a fountain of youth in his quest for longevity. The queen bee of a honeybee hive can live up to five years, whereas worker bees live an average of 40 days. What accounts for her majesty’s long life? Bee product enthusiasts believe it’s her diet of royal jelly, a nutritious, white, milky substance produced in the glands of worker bees, that keeps the queen humming for so many years. These enthusiasts contend that consuming royal jelly may enhance human longevity as well.
Royal jelly isn’t the only treasure from the honeybee hive that might contribute to human health. Honey, propolis and bee pollen have been shown to boost the human immune system and to help ward off allergies, illnesses and even cancer and heart disease. As bee products can cause health problems in people sensitive to bee stings, visit your health care professional before using them.
Worker bees make honey from nectar sipped from the hearts of flowers. To produce a pound of honey, bees have to make about 37,000 trips to the fields collecting flower nectar and pollen. In the hive, the liquid nectar is dried and stored in honeycombs that are then sealed with wax. Inside the sealed comb the honey ripens and can last for many years.
Honey contains up to 80 different substances including vitamins, trace minerals and live enzymes. Honey fanciers revere raw over commercially strained honey, which can lose from 33 to 50 percent of its vitamin content through the preparation process. Bakers often prefer using honey over sugar in breads and sweets because the honey helps these foods stay moist and fresh for longer periods of time.
Raw honey may also speed the healing of infected wounds and burns, and it appears to have antibacterial, antiallergenic and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, 58 people with wounds that resisted antibiotics for more than two years experienced healing after one week of topical honey application. Researchers believe it may be the honey’s acidity, drying power or a bacteria-killing ingredient called inhibine that helped heal the sores [British Journal of Surgery, July 1988, as cited in Health from the Hive (Keats) by Carlson Wade].
Bee propolis, also called bee glue, is made from tree propolis, a sticky resin that seeps from the buds and bark of certain trees. Bees gather propolis and blend it with wax flakes secreted from glands in their abdomens. Bees sterilize their hive by coating it with propolis. Its natural antiseptic qualities ensure a clean environment for healthy brood rearing.
Shown to possess antibacterial and antifungal properties, propolis has been used as a natural antibiotic. One component of honeybee propolis, caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), is known for its anticancer, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, Aug. 1996). Although the molecular basis for these properties isn’t known, propolis has been used to stimulate immune responses, soothe allergies, and reduce susceptibility to colds and flu.
Studies by Polish researchers showed that besides fighting bacteria and fungi, propolis stimulates some enzyme actions, inhibits the growth of protozoa, accelerates bone formation and regenerates tissue [Arzneimittel-Forschung, 1980, vol. 30, as cited in The Honest Herbal (Pharmaceutical Products Press) by Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D.].
Royal Jelly: Full of Nutrients
Royal jelly is a thick, milky-white substance made from bee pollen in the bodies of nurse bees who care for the brood’s eggs. It offers an abundance of B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C and E. It also contains 20 amino acids, fatty acids, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese and acetylcholine. This milky substance also contains gamma-globulin, an immune-stimulating substance.
According to a recent review article, royal jelly could be used to fight atherosclerosis — the deposition of fat in arteries. In animal studies, royal jelly decreased blood serum lipid and cholesterol levels. In addition, it retarded the formation of fatty arterial deposits in the aortas of animals fed a high-fat diet. The same article also reviews controlled human trials using royal jelly to reduce hyperlipidemia and reports a significant reduction in total blood serum lipids and cholesterol levels and normalization of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (Experientia, 1995, vol. 51).
Studies in humans also indicate doses of royal jelly (50 to 100 mg. per day) decreased total serum cholesterol levels by about 14 percent and total serum lipids by about 10 percent. “It’s believed royal jelly decreases resorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and increases its excretion in the bile so that less cholesterol and other fat is available in the circulation,” say the authors, adding that royal jelly may also suppress the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver (Experientia, 1995, vol. 51).
Bee Pollen and Congress
Known for its reputed anti-allergy effects, bee pollen has made a believer out of at least one U.S. Senator. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) credits a bee pollen and herb product for curing his seasonal allergies. Plagued by airborne allergens, the senator was persuaded by former Iowa Representative Berkley Bedell (who says alternative remedies cured him of Lyme disease, prostate cancer and allergies) to try an anti-allergy bee pollen regime. Harkin proclaims his allergies were cured, and takes bee pollen and herbs daily when symptoms occur (USA Today, July 22, 1993).
As a result of his success with this natural therapy, Harkin became a leading force in establishing the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). Funded in 1992 by the National Institutes of Health, the OAM was instituted to investigate and validate therapies most doctors ignore such as the therapeutic uses of bee pollen and shark cartilage.
Bee pollen contains all 22 known amino acids and all 28 minerals found in the human body. It’s a particularly good source of the B-complex vitamins. It’s been praised as effective in the treatment of conditions as diverse as low blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and mental fatigue, writes Carlson Wade in Health From the Hive (Keats).
Frances Albrecht, M.S., C.N., is a nutrition counselor and a distance learning instructor at Bastyr University. This story is produced by Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash., which offers a program in naturopathic medicine (N.D.); bachelor’s degrees in the natural health sciences; and master’s degrees in nutrition, acupuncture and Oriental medicine. For information, contact Bastyr University, 14500 Juanita Drive NE, Bothell, WA 98011; 206-823-1300.