Bee pollen is the dust-size male seed found on the stamen of any flower blossom. The pollen collects on the legs of honeybees as they move from flower to flower. The bees secrete a number of enzymes into the pollen. Pollen is usually collected commercially by placing a special device at the entrance of beehives that brushes the substance from their hind legs into a collection receptacle.
Bee pollen is among the oldest known dietary supplements. Its use as a rejuvenator and medicine date back to the early Egyptians and ancient Chinese. It has been called many things, from a fountain of youth to an "ambrosia of the gods." The Greek physician Hippocrates, sometimes called the father of modern medicine, used it as a healing substance 2,500 years ago. It is rich in vitamins, especially B vitamins, and contains trace amounts of minerals, elements, amino acids, and enzymes.
The pollen is composed of 55% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 3% minerals and vitamins, 2% fatty acids, and 5% other substances. It contains very small amounts of many substances considered to be antioxidants, including betacarotene, vitamins C and E, lycopene, selenium, and flavonoids.
Proponents of bee pollen offer a wide range of claims regarding its nutritional and healing properties. These include enhancing the immune system, controlling weight, relieving allergy symptoms, increasing strength, improving sexual function, enhancing vitality and stamina, slowing
Bee pollen is said to strengthen the immune system through its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are used to deactivate free radicals in the body. Free radicals are byproducts of oxygen that can damage cells and are linked to many degenerative diseases, especially those associated with aging. They are also associated with the aging process itself. Antioxidants may block further damage and even reverse much of the cell oxidation already done. Bee pollen is suggested to help counteract the effects of radiation and environmental pollutants that weaken the immune system, supporters say.
In the January 2000 issue of Bee Online, an Internet publication of the American Apitherapy Society, Steve Schecter, naturopathic doctor, said bee pollen is beneficial in reducing the effects of radiation treatment in women with cancer. A group of 25 women undergoing treatment for uterine cancer also took 20 g (about two teaspoons) of bee pollen three times a day. The women reported improvements in their appetites and sense of well being, and less severe nausea associated with radiation therapy. Their serum protein levels increased and red and white blood cell counts also improved.
Although many plant pollens can cause or exacerbate allergies and hay fever, bee pollen can actually help reduce the symptoms of these conditions. Local bee pollen therapy is recommended to start before the allergy season begins and it may take a few weeks for the pollen to work. According to an article in the February 1998 issue of Better Nutrition, an Oklahoma allergist successfully used bee pollen to treat 22,000 patients with allergies. However, those allergic to bee stings may experience severe (anaphylactic) reactions to the pollen.
Bee pollen is often used by athletes to improve strength, endurance, energy, and speed. It is said to help muscles recover more quickly from exercise and to increase mental stamina. "Bee pollen is used by almost every Olympic athlete in the world," said James Higgins, treasurer of the American Apitherapy Society, in an interview in the August 1999 issue of Better Nutrition. "It gives them more energy and better performance for events like marathons, and they aren't as exhausted the next day."
It takes about two hours for bee pollen to be absorbed into the bloodstream. It is available in health food stores in gelatin capsules, tablets, and granules. Capsules and tablets generally contain 500-1000 mg of bee pollen. A 100-count bottle costs $5-8 on average. Granules are sold by the ounce or pound. A one-pound bag costs about $20. The recommended dosages for preventative purposes are an
eighth to a quarter teaspoon of granules once a day to start, gradually increasing over a month to one to two teaspoons, one to three times a day. The dosage for short-term therapeutic use is 3/8-3/4 teaspoon to start, increasing to three to six teaspoons, one to three times a day. The recommended preventative dosage for capsules is two 450-580 mg capsules, three to four times a day, and three times that dosage for therapeutic purposes. Bee pollen is also available in liquid, cream, salve, and tincture form, mainly for use on skin conditions, sores, pounds, and bruises. Bee pollen should not be heated, since it will lose its potency.
Persons who are allergic to bee stings or products should not use bee pollen since it may cause a serious allergic reaction, including death. Anyone uncertain if they are allergic to bee pollen should sample only a few granules first to see if there is any type of reaction, or have an allergy test. Those using bee pollen to reduce hay fever should be sure to consume local bee pollen to obtain the best results.
There are rare cases of minor side effects, such as gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea, associated with ingesting bee pollen.
Bee pollen has no known negative interactions with other drugs, vitamins, or supplements.
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Elkins, Rita. Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, Propolis, and Honey: An Extraordinary Energy and Health-Promoting Ensemble. Woodland Publishing, 1999.
Geelhoed, Glenn W. and Jean Barilla. Natural Health Secrets From Around the World. Keats Publishing, 1997.
Jensen, Bernard. Bee Well, Bee Wise. Bernard Jensen Publisher, 1994.
Wade, Carlson. Carlson Wade's New Fact Book on Bee Pollen and Your Health. Keats Publishing, 1994.
Adderly, Brenda. "The Latest Buzz on Products of the Hive." Better Nutrition (August 1999): 42.
Hovey, Sue. "One Pill Makes You Larger." Women's Sports and Fitness (April 1997): 79-80.
Satel, Sally and James Taranto. "Bogus Bee Pollen." The New Republic (January 8, 1996): 24-26.
Scheer, James. "Products of the Hive: Sticky, Sweet and Healthful." Better Nutrition (February 1998): 60-63.
Somer, Elizabeth. "Tasty Relief: The Benefits of Using Food as Nutrition." Men's Fitness (July 1998): 44-46.
American Apitherapy Society. 5390 Grande Road, Hillsboro, OH 45133. (937) 364-1108. firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.apitherapy.org.
Ken R. Wells