Royal jelly may sound like a condiment fit for a queen — and it is! A queen bee, that is.

You may have heard about the health benefits of honey (raw is best), but fewer people are familiar with this magical substance that bees produce for their queen.

In the beehive, worker bees get their nutrition and energy from honey. But they also secrete a special food that they give to queen bees and larvae that may become queen bees. That’s because the queen bee requires more intense nutrition than other bees, to make her stronger and bigger and to help her live longer than all the other bees, and lay eggs.

This food, royal jelly, is made up of water, protein, amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids, and it’s highly nutritious for humans. More research needs to be done on royal jelly, but here are some of the emerging health benefits.

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Royal jelly, as well as honey, has shown promise when it comes to treating wounds and fighting infection. In a 2010 study, royal jelly treatments boosted production of the skin cells that repair tissue damage in diabetic mice with wounds.

These healing effects for the skin may help slow the aging process as well!

Several studies, including one published last year in PloS One, have confirmed that royal jelly has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

It has also shown a lot of healing potential for cancer patients. For example, it helped reduce pain and inflammation in the digestive tract of cancer patients when given prior to chemotherapy and radiation. And it bolstered the immune systems of cancer patients after two and four weeks of treatment, resulting in less fatigue.

The evidence for royal jelly’s beneficial effects on diabetes and blood sugar is impressive. A 2016 study showed that 1,000 milligrams three times a day significantly decreased blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It also led to lower levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular risk markers. Similar, “remarkable” drops in blood glucose and hemoglobin, and increases in insulin, have been achieved in other studies.

Recent research also suggests that royal jelly improves insulin resistance (when the body’s cells don’t respond normally to the hormone insulin) as well as antioxidant levels in diabetes patients ages 25 to 65.

Royal jelly may be a powerful elixir for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Considering that up to 40 percent of the female reproductive population experiences PMS symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and cravings, this is a huge development. Medical students in Iran who took a daily royal jelly pill for two consecutive menstrual cycles saw a significant decrease in their PMS symptoms.

Some preliminary animal studies indicate that royal jelly could possibly play a role in increasing fertilization rates for women struggling with infertility.

Topical royal jelly may be effective as well, for postmenopausal women. This group often reports stress, urinary incontinence, and sexual issues. One study showed that a vaginal royal jelly cream (it also included estrogen) helped improve quality of life and sexual and urinary function for women ages 50 to 65.

Royal jelly is usually available as a supplement, in capsule form. But there are other varieties, including creams and freeze-dried versions. You can also incorporate small amounts of raw honey into your diet, and reap the benefits indirectly.

Speak with your doctor before you start taking royal jelly, or any other supplements or alternative remedies.

There are certain circumstances in which you should be extra cautious with royal jelly:

  • if you are pregnant or breast-feeding
  • if you have estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer
  • if you are taking blood thinners
  • if you have bee allergies or asthma

Feeding honey or royal jelly to children is generally not advised, due to the small risk of botulism (an illness caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria).

Some skin care and makeup products contain royal jelly, so that’s another way that you can try this power ingredient.

Sometimes it’s said that we would starve without bees, and there’s a lot of truth to that. These tiny, hard-working insects are responsible for much of our food reaching the table. They pollinate many of the crops worldwide ($15 billion worth in the United States alone), which allows them to grow and produce food.

Sadly, the bee population is in jeopardy. It’s estimated to be at its lowest point in 50 years, possibly due to global warming, pesticide use, habitat loss, and parasites. You can learn more and contribute to bee protection efforts here.

In the meantime, have fun exploring royal jelly and the other unique gifts that bees provide us!