Bee pollen has been used since ancient times as a health enhancer and energy booster. It is one of the richest naturally occurring multivitamin source in nature. But how does it benefit the body to enhance health? Is there anything to be cautious of? We find out in this comprehensive guide to bee pollen benefits and side effects.
Bee pollen is a superfood full of antioxidants. It boosts the body’s immunity, promotes wound healing and reduces cholesterol levels. It can be used against microbes, radiation and inflammation; and can help combat liver damage, heart and prostate problems, and anemia. Allergy to bee pollen is rare.
What is Bee Pollen?
Pollen is one of the purest, most complete and nutrient‐dense food that can be found in nature. So far, attempts to synthesize bee pollen in a laboratory have not been successful. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) produce bee pollen that is the main source of protein for the colony. It also contains all the nutrition required by honey bees—carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals, etc.
Nurse worker bees and drones consume a good amount of the pollen brought back to the hive. The nurse worker bees then produce and secrete royal jelly that provides protein, fertility stimulants, B vitamins, and other necessary nutrients to the Queen and future queen bee larvae. This is why they grow very fast to twice the size of normal bees. No wonder bee pollen is very good for humans, too. It is the only known naturally produced food to contain nearly all the nutrients needed by the human body, just like the honey bees. Even vitamin B12 that is not found in plant products is present in varying amounts in bee pollen, depending on the source.
The 21 Benefits of Bee Pollen
1. A Rich Source of Protein
Bee pollen is made up of more protein than any other animal source. It contains 23% protein—more than eggs, beef, cheese or chicken of equal weight. What’s more, half of this protein content are free amino acids which means that they can be easily assimilated and directly used by the body without a further breakdown.
2. Full of Antioxidants
Cigarette smoke, car exhaust and all kinds of air pollution cause oxidation reactions that produce substances damaging to the body. In the body itself, oxidation takes place accompanying organ and cellular functions. Antioxidants counter and inhibit the negative effects of oxidation to keep the body healthy.
Researchers have found bee pollen to exhibit impressive amounts of antioxidant properties, just like fermented food. As bee pollen also undergoes fermentation in the hive, this is not surprising. Some antioxidants found in food that are also present in bee pollen are resveratrol, commonly found in wine, flavenols that are found in chocolate, and lycopene, also found in tomatoes. The vitamins A, C, and E are also antioxidants in bee pollen.
3. Super Food
Bee pollen has nearly the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals that the human body needs, so it is not surprising that it’s a fairly popular dietary supplement. As a complete and nutrient-dense food, it can ‘fill in the cracks’, so to say, on one’s nutritional needs and boost overall health.
4. Good for the Heart
Rutin is present in bee pollen in large quantities. This antioxidant—member of a plant pigment group, bioflavonoids—keeps the heart healthy by supporting the structure of the cardiovascular system. Rutin helps in strengthening blood vessels and assisting with circulatory problems through its powerful anti-clotting properties. All these benefits can serve as preventative measures against heart attack and stroke.
5. Good for the Liver too
Studies point to chestnut bee pollen showing positive effects to liver health and can even contribute to the protection and faster healing process of a damaged liver brought about by high toxicity. Silibinin is a treatment used for a liver injury that has the same effects. However, Silibinin showed severe side effects that the bee pollen did not.
6. Reduces Cholesterol Levels
Bee pollen supplements have also been shown to normalize the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the body, thereby, further reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
7. Reduces Inflammation
Bee pollen has a significant anti-inflammatory effect that is instrumental to many of its beneficial properties. Inflammation is the culprit to a number of conditions such as skin disorders, arthritis, liver disease, neurological disorders, and psoriasis, among others.
8. Boosts Immunity
As the bee pollen is full of antioxidants, it decreases red and white blood cell oxidation that promotes better oxygen circulation. It contains nutrients all proven to strengthen the immune system such as beta-carotene, magnesium, calcium, selenium, lecithin, cysteine, vitamins B, C, D and E, and nucleic acids, etc. Its antimicrobial properties also help the immune system.
9. Kills Bacteria
Bee pollen was found to have antimicrobial properties when tested against strains of Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aurues, and Pseudomonas aeroginosa.
Most of these microbes are common bacteria but can also be responsible for infections of the skin, urinary tract, intestines, stomach, lungs, kidney, etc. E. Coli is commonly found in the gut, but harmful strains can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. Salmonella enterica serotypes cause salmonellosis, gastroenteritis and typhoid fever. Listeriosis, a bacterial infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes, can further cause meningitis, encephalitis or severe sepsis.
10. Promotes Wound Healing
Bee pollen can promote wound healing because it increases the production of white blood cells, improves blood circulation and moistens skin. The flavonoids in bee pollen also relieve pain while its antimicrobial properties prevent infections. Bee pollen is also an effective burn remedy.
11. Desensitization to Allergies
Probably one of the most common uses of bee pollen is in reducing allergic reaction. Consumption of bee pollen has been found to desensitize the body and prevent allergies such as hay fever. This works to develop a kind of natural immunity. The bee pollen contains minute traces of allergen. This amount is not enough to trigger a severe allergic reaction but can still stimulate the immune system to start the production of antibodies that can, in turn, decrease the susceptibility of an individual to allergens.
The bee pollen’s anti-allergy benefit is especially effective if you obtain the product from your area. Local bee pollen will be made of local flora containing the elements that have caused the allergy.
12. Anticancer Potential
Bee pollen can also potentially contribute to fighting off cancer cells or at least reduce cancer risks. Bee pollen extracts have been found to have a degree of cytotoxicity or cell toxicity that may be used against certain cancer cell types and found to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. It also has properties for cancer prevention that inhibits mutation in genes and DNA. Flavonoids, in particular, were observed to prevent the development of breast cancer.
While further studies still have to be conducted, current findings on bee pollen anticancer potential show promise.
13. Anti-radiation Properties
Regardless of its anticancer potential, bee pollen is still advisable to cancer patients for its potent anti-radiation benefits. Bee pollen is found to relieve radiation therapy symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sleep disorder. It does this by acting as a buffer against the degradation that the body undergoes throughout the radioactive exposure.
Even healthy individuals can benefit from this. Every day, we are exposed to natural radiation in the soil, natural gas, drinking water, etc., as well as radiation caused by technology and consumer products like cell phones and watches. Bee pollen can provide protection to some degree against this constant exposure.
14. Alleviates Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is often accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness, irritability, hot flashes, forgetfulness, and headaches. Studies show that products with bee pollen were seen to alleviate these same symptoms. In addition, bee pollen also helped in the improvement of incontinence and vaginal dryness.
15. Aids in Iron Absorption
The number one cause of anemia is low blood iron levels. Bee pollen contains abundant Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, both proven to help in the absorption of iron. Research on the effects of bee pollen on iron-deficient rats has determined that bee pollen alleviates the symptoms of iron deficiency to a great extent. They found that the bee product aids in the iron absorption and utilization in the rats’ body. A decrease in their blood platelet count and an increase in hemoglobin levels are both indicative of anti-anemic activity.
16. Energy and Stamina
Some athletes swear by the effectivity of bee pollen in boosting energy levels and increasing their stamina. Rutin is not only good for the heart. This antioxidant, along with the high contents of B vitamins, carbohydrates and protein in bee pollen, can significantly enhance the body’s performance.
17. Relieves Stress
The same components that provide additional energy also help the body fight off fatigue and relieve stress. For example, since rutin helps in circulation, it also improves blood flow to the nervous system. This helps against tiredness and stress by raising mental capacity and wakefulness.
18. Fertility and Libido Booster
Bee pollen has been observed to show a restorative effect on ovarian functions. Some results also point to bee pollen as an aphrodisiac, increasing sexual function and libido in men and women.
19. Relief from Symptoms of Prostate Problems
Prostate enlargement is a natural part of aging in men. But in many cases, it leads to Benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH—the abnormal increase in the size of the prostate gland, common to men as they age. Since the prostate becomes quite large, it presses against the urethra. The condition is accompanied by the frequent urge to urinate and trouble or inability to do so. It can also lead to further complications such as urinary tract, bladder, and kidney problems.
Currently, there has been growing evidence that points to bee pollen contributing to the management of BPH and prostatitis symptoms. Furthermore, men report that they find relief after consumption of bee pollen. Its anti-inflammatory properties also most likely help in relieving the frequent urination and the accompanying difficulties that go with it.
Eating bee pollen can help in digestion. It has a high enzymatic count that regulates the intestinal flora and helps alleviate stomach discomfort and ailments due to digestive disorders.
21. Skin Problem and Skin Care
Topical products with bee pollen help treat inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. The amino acids and vitamins present in bee pollen aids in skin protection and skin cell regeneration.
Researchers also found that bee pollen, with its anti-radiation and antioxidant activity, can counter some signs of aging and promote healthy skin. Bee pollen creams were found to diminish wrinkles while its wound healing and antibacterial properties help reduce acne.
The 4 Side‐Effects of Bee Pollen
1. Bee Pollen Allergy
The are not a lot of downsides to bee pollen use and consumption as it is safe for most people. However, it would be better for those allergic to honey and other bee products to give this one a miss. Bee pollen has been known to cause allergic reactions, including hives, wheeze, swelling and even anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis, a severe form of allergic reaction that progresses fast, can even result in death. It’s rare, and an adrenaline shot can reverse the symptoms quickly.
2. Stomach Upset
Bee pollen is so nutrient rich that people who are not used to it can experience an upset stomach or diarrhea. For this reason, it is advised to start off small by taking one grain at a time. Gradually increase the amount if no adverse effects are evident.
3. Negative Effects of Long Term Use
While bee pollen is safe for short term use, prolonged consumption can cause numbness and tingling, muscle weakness, loss of appetite or rapid weight gain. It is not advisable to take bee pollen for more than a month or two. Say, take bee pollen for 30 to 60 days and then stop for a while.
4. Contaminated Bee Pollen
While a degree of contamination cannot be avoided, bee pollen can be contaminated by pesticides and chemicals in large amounts that can lead to food poisoning. It is important to obtain bee pollen from a trusted supplier.
How is Bee Pollen Made?
When bees harvest nectar, pollen covers the hair on the bees’ body, looking like they’ve bathed on millions of microscopic pollen particles. The bee combs the grains off with its legs and mixes them with a tiny bit of spit, nectar or honey brought along from the hive, to form a ball of pollen. This forms the small ball granules that are the bee pollen we eat. Each granule can contain up to 5 million individual pollen particles. When the bees arrive in the hive, they store the bee pollen in honeycomb cells where they are covered, fermented, and preserved by lactic acid.
What’s the difference of bee pollen from bee propolis?
While bee pollen is one of the bee’s nutrient source made from flower pollens, bee propolis is the bee’s glue, made from beeswax and resin collected from tree buds. Bee propolis is used to seal cracks in the hive and is antimicrobial.
Consuming Bee Pollen
Where to Buy and What to Look for
Support a bee farm that follows organic and ethical beekeeping practices. Obtain bee pollen from a trusted local supplier, if possible. Not only does this increase bee pollen’s anti-allergic properties but you can also be assured that it’s free from serious contaminants. Fresh bee pollen should be loose without any clumping. The more color variety present, the better.
How Much to Take
There is no uniform dosage for bee pollen. Some people take 1 to 2 tablespoons a day while some take it 3 a day. Others consume even more.
Preparation and Storage
Do not cook bee pollen as heat can destroy most of its properties. Bee pollen needs to be consumed raw. Also, imported bee pollen may have undergone dehydration and heating, all the more reason to purchase locally.
Bee pollen can be taken as is or you can drizzle it on smoothies, cereal or yogurt.
Store bee pollen in the freezer as it can easily go rancid.
Fun Fact: Floral Fidelity
Honey bees exhibit something called floral fidelity. If you’ve noticed, even though individual pellets are a different color from each other, there are no rainbow‐colored ones. Each bee pollen granule has a distinct solid color—granules composed only of shades of yellow or shades of orange, white, blue, etc.
This uniform coloration is caused by floral fidelity where bees visit only one kind of flower during an entire foraging trip. If a bee is collecting pollens from marigolds on a certain trip, it would only hop from one marigold to another for the whole duration. By doing this, not only do the bees deposit pellets that are one color, but they are also certain to pollinate each flower that they visit. They would continue to patronize the same kind of flower for days and days. They would usually only switch when the source dries up.
The benefit of floral fidelity to the plant being pollinated is obvious, but it is not yet certain how floral fidelity is advantageous to the bees.
Now that you know how bee pollen can benefit you and how you can avoid its side effects, you can head over to your local bee pollen supplier and experience this superfood for yourself.