It’s well known that bee products like honey, royal jelly, and bee propolis have many health benefits. These honeybee products have a permanent spot in my kitchen as well as my home remedy cabinet. So, it’s not surprising that bee pollen is also an amazing health food and supplement.
Bee Pollen: The Surprising Superfood
Bee pollen is not the same as pollen. Pollen is the male seed of flowering plants and is necessary for fertilizing the plant for reproduction. Bee pollen is a ball or pellet of pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax, and bee secretions created by worker bees. This mixture is used as the primary food for young bees.
Bee pollen is one of the few completely nourishing foods as it contains nearly all nutrients necessary for human health, including:
- protein and amino acids
- fat and fatty acids
According to Dr. Mercola, bee pollen can’t be synthesized in a laboratory. When presented with synthetic bee pollen, bees can’t survive, suggesting that there is something in bee pollen that we don’t know about, despite the most up-to-date technology for testing the composition of bee pollen.
It seems like a new age health food but bee pollen has been used medicinally as early as 2500 years ago in ancient Greece. It was also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Mention of bee pollen shows up in Egyptian and Native America folklore as well.
Studied Bee Pollen Benefits
Because pollen is a whole food with all the necessary nutrients to support human life, it is often used as a dietary supplement to address reducing allergy symptoms, correcting nutrient deficiencies, lowering inflammation, and even promoting weight loss.
Nutrition & Weight Loss
While there isn’t a lot of clear research on its effects on weight, there is some supporting its use for malnutrition.
In a 2014 study performed on rats, bee pollen was helpful in preventing and reversing malnutrition and even improved muscle mass (versus increasing nutrients in food alone). Clearly, bee pollen is a great tool for dealing with the myriad of nutrient deficiencies Americans are dealing with due to a nutrient-poor diet.
But there are many other benefits of bee pollen as well.
It’s well known that inflammation is a common factor in many diseases. Increasing antioxidant activity (through diet or supplement) can help reduce inflammation and reverse some signs of disease. Bee pollen can be used as an antioxidant to fight inflammation and improve disease symptoms. One study found that bee pollen had significant free radical scavenging abilities similar to vitamin E. It also discovered that bee pollen was helpful for patients dealing with a disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Researchers also found that bee pollen mixed with honey had a significant anti-inflammatory effect on mice with toxic injury to the liver due to acetaminophen use. Honey alone didn’t have the same effect, suggesting that bee pollen has specific (and significant!) anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation can cause swelling that stimulates nerves and causes pain. So it would make sense that bee pollen could also be a remedy for pain. According to a study published in 2015, this is true. Bee pollen was found to help with pain and healing of burn wounds.
Honey and other bee products are known to be antimicrobial and antibacterial. That’s why raw honey can be used on wounds to treat and prevent infection. It turns out that bee pollen is also antimicrobial. When scientists evaluated six bee pollen products available commercially, all six had anti-microbial properties. This study also found bee pollen to be anti-mutagenic (counteracts genetic mutation), antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.
May Be Anti-Cancer
One of the most interesting things about this bee product is its relationship to cancer. A study performed in 1948 used mice who were bred to develop tumors (every mouse would eventually develop tumors). The ones who were not given bee pollen developed tumors and died within the expected time frame. The ones that were given bee pollen didn’t develop tumors within the expected time frame and some were tumor-free at the end of the experiment.
However, more research is needed to investigate how bee pollen benefits might work against cancer. This review discusses the possibility of anti-cancer properties of bee products in general and concludes that some bee products may have anti-cancer properties but need to be researched further.
Can Help Fight Allergies
I have raw honey on hand to help with seasonal allergies because it’s thought to help the immune system by exposing it to local pollen. Bee pollen is another bee product that can help with allergies. Researchers concluded in 2008 that bee pollen can inhibit the activation of mast cells, which play a role in allergic reactions.
Supports Healthy Hormones
An unexpected health benefit of bee pollen is that it supports hormonal health. One study in rats found that bee pollen helped regulate ovarian function. Rats that consumed a larger amount of bee pollen had increased production of steroid hormones, like progesterone.
Another study published in the journal Andrologia discovered that consuming chrysin (an antioxidant found in bee pollen) can have a beneficial effect on male fertility.
Finally, according to a 2015 study, bee pollen can help with menopausal symptoms too. In this study, women with breast cancer who were taking anti-hormonal medications had a reduction in menopausal symptoms after taking bee pollen and/or honey.
How to Get Bee Pollen in Your Diet
Bee pollen is such an amazing food and contains so many beneficial compounds (some of which haven’t been pinpointed by science yet!) that it’s not surprising that there are many uses for it.
The nutrient profile of this superfood makes it a great choice for addressing nutrient deficiencies. Using it as a supplement (with guidance from a health care professional) can help with:
- hormonal balance
- nutrient deficiencies
There’s no set dosage for bee pollen but 1-2 teaspoons is a good starting point. You can eat it raw or add it to your food or hot water.
Bee pollen can also be used topically for wound healing. Its antimicrobial nature helps heal wounds and prevent infection. Bee pollen can be used topically for:
- wound healing
- skin irritations
- rashes (like eczema)
Use bee pollen in the same way you would use another healing salve.
Is Bee Pollen Safe?
For most people bee pollen is safe and has no side effects when consumed for short periods of time. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not consume bee pollen. One reason is that it’s thought that bee pollen can stimulate the uterus. Some people are allergic to it (or pollen in general), so should not use bee pollen. If you’re at all concerned, check with your healthcare provider.
Where to Get Bee Pollen
There is some concern that bee pollen isn’t harvested sustainably. As with many supplements and natural health products, it’s important to find a source that sustainably harvests bee pollen and cares for the bees. Finding a local beekeeper that can explain (or show you) how they harvest the product is a great option. For example, having lots of forage near the hive helps reduce the workload on the bees.
Have you ever experienced the health benefits of bee pollen? What was your experience?
- Salles, J., Cardinault, N., Patrac, V., Berry, A., Giraudet, C., Collin, M., . . . Walrand, S. (2014). Bee Pollen Improves Muscle Protein and Energy Metabolism in Malnourished Old Rats through Interfering with the Mtor Signaling Pathway and Mitochondrial Activity. Nutrients, 6(12), 5500-5516. doi:10.3390/nu6125500
- Nagai, T., Nagashima, T., Suzuki, N., & Inoue, R. (2005). Antioxidant Activity and Angiotensin I-Converting Enzyme Inhibition by Enzymatic Hydrolysates from Bee Bread. Zeitschrift Für Naturforschung C, 60(1-2), 133-138. doi:10.1515/znc-2005-1-224
- Akkol, E. K., Orhan, D. D., Gürbüz, I., & Yesilada, E. (2010). In vivo activity assessment of a “honey-bee pollen mix” formulation. Pharmaceutical Biology, 48(3), 253-259. doi:10.3109/13880200903085482
- De-Melo, A. A., & Almeida-Muradian, L. B. (2017). Chemical Composition of Bee Pollen. Bee Products – Chemical and Biological Properties, 221-259. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-59689-1_11
- Pascoal, A., Rodrigues, S., Teixeira, A., Feás, X., & Estevinho, L. M. (2014). Biological activities of commercial bee pollens: Antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 63, 233-239. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2013.11.010
- Delay in the Appearance of Palpable Mammary Tumors in C3H Mice Following the Ingestion of Pollenized Food. (1948). JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. doi:10.1093/jnci/9.2.119
- Premratanachai, P., & Chanchao, C. (2014). Review of the anticancer activities of bee products. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 4(5), 337-344. doi:10.12980/apjtb.4.2014c1262
- Ishikawa, Y., Tokura, T., Nakano, N., Hara, M., Niyonsaba, F., Ushio, H., . . . Ogawa, H. (2008). Inhibitory Effect of Honeybee-Collected Pollen on Mast Cell Degranulation In Vivo and In Vitro. Journal of Medicinal Food, 11(1), 14-20. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.163
- Kolesarova, A., Bakova, Z., Capcarova, M., Galik, B., Juracek, M., Simko, M., . . . Sirotkin, A. V. (2012). Consumption of bee pollen affects rat ovarian functions. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 97(6), 1059-1065. doi:10.1111/jpn.12013
- Ciftci, O., Ozdemir, I., Aydin, M., & Beytur, A. (2011). Beneficial effects of chrysin on the reproductive system of adult male rats. Andrologia, 44(3), 181-186. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2010.01127.x
- Münstedt, K., Voss, B., Kullmer, U., Schneider, U., & Hübner, J. (2015). Bee pollen and honey for the alleviation of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients. Molecular and Clinical Oncology, 3(4), 869-874. doi:10.3892/mco.2015.559