The thought of bee pollen may conjure up images of nectar or an association with allergies. It is, however, one of the real superfoods of the world and also a protein source.
Bee pollen is a substance filled with nutrients and has been used for thousands of years. Bee pollen can be thought of as natures multivitamin and contains many beneficial enzymes.
This article will look at what bee pollen is, the health benefits it brings, and the science behind it.
What is bee pollen?
The honey bee is an incredible thing and is invaluable to the world. Besides just making a treat like honey, bees are responsible for a lot of agriculture. Their ability to pollinate crops makes them a valuable asset. Cotton and flax crops depend on honey bees to grow and develop.
Honey bees also provide propolis, which is a natural antibacterial and antimicrobial substance. Propolis boosts your immune system and can help combat disease and illness.
Bee pollen itself is the male reproductive spore of a flowering plant. In each full-size pollen grain, there are thousands of these individual spores. Each particle is so small it requires a microscope to see it.
The bees continue to add to each particle until it becomes larger and larger to the size of a pellet. Honey bees have a fuzzy coat to them, and this is important in helping transport the pollen.
They also have an electrostatic charge, and this is necessary to have the pollen stick to them better.
The honey bees fly around collecting this pollen which attaches to corbicula which is on their hind legs. The corbicula is like a basket which can store the pollen while traveling. Bee pollen is formed when each pollen grain is joined with nectar, and the bees own digestive enzyme.
These individual grains now end up as an energy-dense food source. Worker bees collect this new ‘food’ where it is used by the queen bee to feed young larvae.
This newly formed bee pollen is crucial for providing the nutritional needs of the entire hive. It provides protein, nutrients, and energy to sustain life.
Bee pollen can be used for human consumption but needs to be harvested by beekeepers. Only a small amount of the pollen in a hive is collected as the rest is required by the bee colony. The beekeeper takes the pollen and puts it into a collection trap. Collection traps resemble a series of drawers and kept under the hive.
They place the pollen in these traps to help preserve and store it. The traps can fill up quickly during the summer months. During these summer months, there are many more flowering plants and more pollen for the bees to harvest. Depending on where in the world it is, things will slow down for bee pollen production during the cold winter months.
Bee pollen is very high in B-complex vitamins. It does not contain vitamin B-12 but is very high in B-9. Vitamin B-9, or folic acid, is a crucial vitamin during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Bee pollen is also high in rutin. (1)
Rutin is a flavonoid from the quercetin category. This is a citrus flavonoid found in other foods and citrus fruits. Rutin is believed to give citrus fruits, and pollen, a tangy type taste. The rutin acts as an antioxidant while also having anti-inflammatory properties. (2)
Rutin is a natural antihistamine and is essential for circulation. It protects the blood vessels and is vital in keeping the vascular system healthy. (3)
Bee pollen is so high in rutin it’s thought to be worth taking for this reason alone – even if it didn’t contain any other nutrients.
Bee pollen is also very high in lecithin. Lecithin is a phospholipid made up of inositol and choline. This fat-like substance physically makes up your brain. The brain is 30% lecithin, and the cell membrane is also made up of it.
Lecithin is crucial for healthy brain function and helps control neurotransmitter activity in the body. A good deal of mental health issues may result from low phospholipids.
Low amounts of choline (which makes up the lecithin) are connected to anxiety and depression. (4)
Lecithin is also crucial in the diet as it breaks down fats for use throughout the body.
The body and brain depend on phospholipids like lecithin to survive. Bee pollen is a rich source of it and made up of 15% lecithin.
Health benefits of bee pollen
We mentioned that bee pollen is a rich source of B-vitamins, including folic acid. Besides being notable for pregnancy, folic acid is essential for your body on a cellular level. Folic acid helps your body to make new cells and also maintain them.
It is also vital for protecting against DNA damage, and this helps combat cancer. If you are deficient in folic acid, it may lead to anemia as you will have a lack of red blood cells. (5)
Besides helping in brain function, the lecithin content of bee pollen can help with other conditions, including:
- Lowering cholesterol (6)
- Improving heart health
- Combating dementia
- Improving skin health
Here are more of the health benefits that come from using bee pollen.
Bee pollen is rich in enzymes, and these are important to aid digestion. The pollen includes several enzymes such as:
These are critical enzymes involved with breaking down and digesting the foods we eat. They allow the body to turn food into usable energy. It’s often said ‘you are what you eat’ – the truth is, you are what you digest.
Without adequate digestion, you don’t get all the nutrients you require, but you also can experience cramps and bloat. But with improved digestion, you need less food and experience fewer cravings.
Improved health is also a byproduct of improved digestion. With a lack of nutrients comes to disease and degeneration by the body.
By consuming enzyme-rich foods, you improve your digestion, absorption, and the transport of critical nutrients. These digestive enzymes may also help in treating lactose intolerance and other digestive disorders. (7)
Many people today have very acidic bodies. This happens because of inferior and manufactured foods plus the environment lived in. When you add stress, alcohol, and medications, the body exists in a constant acidic state.
Alkaline foods help to combat these acid levels and improve the pH balance in the body. Improved pH levels lead to a healthier gut, developed immunity, and overall better health.
Bee pollen is a high alkaline source, and the improved pH levels also lead to (8):
- Improved bone health
- Lowering hypertension
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved memory
- Reduced risk of stroke
Histamine causes seasonal allergies and hay fever, and bee pollen prevents its release. Rutin is responsible for this action as it exists in the granules of the pollen.
One theory suggests that the pollen carries the allergens and allows the body to build up a resistance. The pollen can desensitize the body, and the exposure leads to antibodies being created. (9)
The effect of bee pollen on allergies may vary from person to person. Some will experience relief from allergies when taking it, while others won’t.
It is advised to take bee pollen a few months before allergy season to combat it. The bee pollen/allergy connection is still inconclusive, so it warrants further research.
May help heal wounds and prevent infection
Similar to propolis, bee pollen has anti-inflammatory properties. Along with the antioxidant content, its anti-inflammatory content can help heal wounds. Bee pollen can treat burn wounds better than some pharmaceutical grade options. (10)
The antimicrobial compounds in bee pollen (also in propolis) help prevent infections that come from cuts, scrapes, and burns.
One of the most common forms of bee pollen is in small granule form. This makes it very convenient to take as we can mix it into a variety of foods.
Some common ways to use it are mixed into yogurt, blended into smoothies, or mixed in granola. You can also sprinkle it on cereals. Bee pollen has a somewhat bitter flavor, but adding it to foods can help mask this. Soaking the granules may help to make them more digestible, and this can be done for a few hours before consuming.
Bee pollen is also available in tablet or capsule form. This takes away from the food aspect of bee pollen but makes it more convenient. The different types of bee pollen can easily be found in health food shops or nutrition supplement stores.
The best option is to find a local apiary. You will get bee pollen in its purest form and from a local source.
More local foods will match best for your environment and be the most organic. With local honey bees, you know that you are consuming bee pollen created from nearby flowers.
There aren’t recommended dosages, but some people use ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of bee pollen granules daily. As usual, it’s best to consult with a doctor for dosages.
If you have an allergy to bees, then you need to proceed with caution regarding bee pollen. The bee pollen itself may also cause severe allergies reactions. Starting slowly with bee pollen is essential to identify any potential allergies.
You can test for a bee pollen allergy by placing one bee pollen granule under your tongue. If there isn’t a reaction, you can add from there with an additional granule each time. This may seem overly cautious, but it is necessary to find out if it’s safe.
Bee pollen is not ideal for children under 12, and honey should not be given to infants under 1. Consult with your doctor regarding kids supplementing with bee pollen.
Bee pollen is one of a handful of superfoods that is worth adding to the diet. Not only have we used it for thousands of years, but science also backs up the health claims.
It is easy to add into the diet, whether in whole food form, or supplement. Caution is needed to identify possible allergies, but bee pollen is a worthwhile addition for improved health.