If you’re into natural health products, chances are you’ve heard of bee pollen. But what is bee pollen good for? Let’s find out!
The History of Bee Pollen
Bee pollen has been used throughout the world for at least 2,000 years and is said to have been recommended by both Hippocrates and Pythagoras for its healing properties. The Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans, too, extolled the health benefits of bee pollen.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s that bee pollen, or bee bread, became all the rage among American athletes for its purported ability to improve athletic performance.
And while health care providers and researchers of the time found nothing remarkable about bee pollen, a prominent athletic trainer was adamant that his use of bee pollen as a poultice for injuries was successful in reducing pain and swelling almost 100% of the time.
What Is Bee Pollen?
When worker bees visit flowers to collect nectar, they collect pollen grains on the hairs of their bodies. The honeybees then scrape these flower pollen grains off their bodies and pack them into pellets, which they carry on their legs to the hive for use as a food source.
Once back at the hive, the pollen is then packed into honeycomb cells, mixed with saliva, and sealed in with honey. The digestive enzymes in the bees’ saliva trigger a fermentation process that makes the nutrients within the pollen more bioavailable.
Bee pollen is considered a superfood by many, as its chemical composition includes over 200 different nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, antioxidants, and amino acids. It’s also an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates, and fatty acids.
But like other bee products, the exact composition of bee pollen varies depending on the flowers the pollen was collected from, so no two batches of bee bread are the same—which makes getting a firm grip on any potential health benefits a daunting task.
What Does Bee Pollen Taste Like?
Bee pollen granules have a peculiar taste, so they probably can’t compare to anything you’ve eaten before. But to give you an idea, they’re crunchy and slightly sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. Some people even say they taste a bit like you might expect dry grass to taste. Which is to say you shouldn’t expect to fall in love with bee pollen right out of the gate.
As you get more used to it, though, you may notice that it begins to taste sweeter. But, then, the pellets are so small you don’t really have to taste them at all—you can just toss them back with your beverage of choice.
So What Is Bee Pollen Good For?
Unlike the limited studies of the 1970s, modern science is beginning to show that bee pollen benefits may not be entirely in the head after all. In fact, according to a 2015 review, bee pollen has antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, anti-cancer, immunostimulating, and analgesic properties.
In other words, bee pollen has a lot going on. So let’s dig into some of the particulars right now.
Promotes Liver Health
Studies have found that honeybee pollen is packed with free radical-scavenging antioxidants, including carotenoids and the potent flavonoid quercetin. A 2010 mouse study found that the powerful antioxidant effects of bee pollen were even able to protect against acetaminophen-induced liver necrosis.
Similarly, a 2013 study demonstrated that the antioxidant activity of chestnut bee pollen was able to protect liver cells from oxidative stress and promote healing of chemical-induced liver damage.
Supports the Immune System
A study from 2008 found that daily oral administration of bee pollen significantly reduced activation of mast cells—white blood cells that release chemicals (like histamine) that trigger immediate allergic reactions.
In addition, a study from 2008, and another from 2013, demonstrated that bee pollen exhibited varying degrees of antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, depending on the type of plant pollen contained in the sample.
Lowers Lipid Levels
Elevated lipid levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. But in the same 2015 review mentioned earlier, bee pollen was noted to reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels in several animal studies, with levels dropping between 20% and 35%. Platelet clumping (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke) was also seen to decrease 30%.
And in patients with arteriosclerosis, significant nearsightedness, and partial optic atrophy, bee pollen was found to lower blood serum cholesterol levels, increase visual field, and stabilize visual acuity.
Improves Overall Health and May Increase Lifespan
A 2011 study conducted on New Zealand white rabbits found that female rabbits supplemented with bee pollen had improved rates of conception, milk production, litter size, and blood profiles. Babies fed bee pollen were likewise found to have improved growth and survival.
In addition, a 2014 study involving old and undernourished rats demonstrated that rats fed diets that contained bee pollen had improved muscle mass and metabolism. These findings have implications for older adults, who are at greater risk of poor nutrition and muscle loss.
Finally, a study from 2000 found that the use of bee pollen as a dietary supplement improved the metabolism of iron, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in anemic rats.
Speeds Wound Healing
Studies have found that bee pollen may be extremely effective in healing burn wounds. This is due to the fact that bee pollen accelerates epithelialization via its immune-modulating, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which contribute to a reduction in healing time. Moreover, bee pollen has been shown to reduce pain associated with burns.
As mentioned, bee pollen also contains potent antioxidants, including the flavonoid kaempferol—an antioxidant found in dark leafy greens and fruits. Kaempferol inhibits the activity of two enzymes that weaken connective tissue and blood vessels and contribute to delayed healing. And the quercetin in bee pollen decreases the action of histamine and other chemicals that contribute to the inflammatory response.
Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
A 2015 study investigating the impact of bee pollen on menopause in breast cancer patients found that women who took a bee pollen supplement had fewer and less intense menopausal symptoms. In a 2005 study, 65% of women who received supplemental bee pollen experienced fewer hot flashes. In addition, participants experienced improvements in 15 other measures of quality of life.
May Help Prevent and Treat Cancer
Although the majority of studies looking into the potential benefits of bee pollen for the prevention and treatment of cancer have not involved human trials, the current evidence suggests that bee pollen may inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors and induce cancer cell death.
Moreover, studies have found that supplementation with bee pollen not only reduces the pain associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia but also enhances the effects of the chemotherapy used in the treatment of prostate cancer.
In addition, a 2010 study found that bee pollens derived from hoary rock-rose and white willow are effective estrogen inhibitors and able to reduce the damage caused by three commonly used chemotherapy drugs. Researchers also concluded by suggesting that bee pollen may be useful as a future chemopreventive.
How to Use Bee Pollen
Bee pollen is available ground or in granules and can be purchased at your local health food store or online. The easiest way to consume bee pollen is to combine it with other ingredients, such as honey and yogurt. But there are plenty of bee pollen recipes available, and the flavor is mild enough that you’re really only limited by your imagination. For example, you can add bee pollen to smoothies, oatmeal breakfast bowls, and salads.
And that’s just for starters.
If you’ve never tried bee pollen and are looking for something to get you going, why not start with our matcha chia pudding bowl or strawberry watermelon smoothie bowl? Both are really easy to make and delicious to boot!
However, if you’re allergic to pollen, bee stings, or other bee products, you should speak with your health care provider before trying bee pollen, as it can lead to serious side effects—including shortness of breath, hives, and anaphylaxis—in sensitive individuals.