Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bee Pollen Health Benefits & Risks

Some research shows that Bee pollen – the nutrient-rich pellet made by honeybees and used to feed their young – is full of concentrated goodness for humans too. To help you decide if supplementing your diet with bee pollen is right for you, let’s take a look at the benefits, the risks, and the research. But first…

What is bee pollen?

The pollen that makes you sneeze is chemically different than the pollen molded by bees into granules. Honeybees create bee pollen as they fly from flower to flower. When a honeybee lands on a flower, it scrapes off the loose pollen powder from the stamen using its jaws and legs, and then moistens the pollen with honey it brought from the hive, mixing it and pressing it down into pockets on its legs. It forms into a single pollen granule, which the bee takes back to the hive to become food for the young bees. Amazingly, a single teaspoon of bee pollen pellets represents about 240 hours of pollen-harvesting labor from one bee! 

Bee pollen possesses the nearly all the nutritional substances we need for survival and health, including B-complex, other vitamins, amino acids, and more accessible protein per ounce than that of any animal source. Bee pollen has been called by many "the ultimate survival pack," because it is such a complete nutrient combination. Purportedly, you could live indefinitely on a diet of nothing but bee pollen and water if you add a source of dietary roughage.

Key health benefits of bee pollen

While bee pollen is popular in health circles today, its history is deep, having been used as food for centuries. Written history shows that Hippocrates and Pythagoras recommended bee pollen for its healing powers, even prescribing it to their patients.
Positive health benefit claims by proponents of bee pollen include:
  • Boosting the immune system (due to its antibiotic effect on the body, potentially protecting it from viruses)
  • Enhancing energy (because of its carbohydrates, protein, and B vitamins)
  • Increasing sexual functions in both men and women – aphrodisiac (due to hormonal boosting)
  • Lifespan/longevity increase (because of its high antioxidant count)
  • Soothing skin irritation (bee pollen is often used in topical products for this reason)
  • Aiding digestion (due to its enzymes)
  • Protecting the skin and boosting skin cell regeneration (through its amino acids and vitamins)
  • Reducing inflammation in the lungs (due to its inherent antioxidants that can induce anti-inflammatory effects)
  • Boosting sports performance, including speed, stamina, and endurance
  • Reducing allergic reactions (by reducing the presence of histamines)
  • Correcting nutritional imbalances in the body
  • Improving prostate health (by reducing inflammation resulting from benign prostate hyperplasia)
  • Treating addiction and supporting weight loss (by reducing cravings)
  • Increasing cardiovascular health (due to be pollen's high amounts of the antioxidant bioflavonoid Rutin, which is known for strengthening blood vessels and capillaries)
  • Preventing heart attacks and strokes (also because of bee pollen's Rutin)
  • Stimulating ovary function
  • Battling oxidation (because of its high antioxidant content that strengthens the cells' ability to fight free radicals)

Research on bee pollen

Since many of the bee pollen health benefit claims come from those who market bee pollen, it's helpful to look at scientific research to see if it supports claims. Here is what we found:
  • A 1983 study of bee pollen to analyze its properties found that it  has high crude fiber content, and contains high concentrations potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sodium. While they found bee pollen to be high in protein, it is minimally useful to humans because of its low digestibility.
  • One study reports anti-inflammatory benefits from bee pollen, similar to the effect of the drug Vioxx, but without the increased heart attack risks.
  • Two studies, one in China and one in Denmark, on the effect of bee pollen on memory found little to no improvement on memory. However, in both cases, the tests involved a formula that only had 14% bee pollen.
  • A 1977 clinical trial on bee pollen determined that bee pollen provided no significant sports performance enhancement benefit.
  • A 1978 study, reported in Journal of Sports Medicine, tested bee pollen’s effect on athletic performance, and concluded that the pollen had no significant effect.
  • Former Russian Olympic coach Korchemny determined in a 2-year study that bee pollen improves athletes’ recovery power. 
  • Vanderbilt University compiled results from multiple bee pollen studies, finding no proof that bee pollen has any energy-enhancing effects nor positive weight loss effects.
  • Some clinical tests showed that bee pollen is quickly digested and enters the bloodstream quickly.
  • One experiment showed that, on a diet of nothing but bee pollen,  mice can survive and reproduce.
  • A 1994 mouse experiment tested bee pollen’s effect on maternal nutrition and fetal growth. The pollen-fed group experienced increased body weight,  higher levels of total protein, and a lower death rate than the fetuses fed a normal diet. 
  • A 1995 clinical trial on pollen extract’s anti-tumor potential found it to be effective in treating prostate enlargement and prostatitis.
  • In a 1991 study on rats on the effect of pollen on prolonged poisoning of rats with simulated industrial exposure, liver damage was nearly nonexistent in pollen-treated rates, yet significant in the control group.

Bee Pollen risks

The University of Utah states that there are no significant food or drug interactions to bee pollen. That said, some people are allergic to ingested pollen, with symptoms ranging from mild to fatal.  Allergy warning signs include:
  • Wheezing
  • Rash
  • Photosensitivity
  • Anaphylaxis
If you have a history of airborne allergies to pollen, the risk of a reaction to bee pollen supplements is higher.
Some studies also suggest that bee pollen can create liver damage or renal failure.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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