7 Best Benefits of Bee Pollen, According to Nutrition Experts

Photo credit: © Jackie Bale - Getty Images
Photo credit: © Jackie Bale – Getty Images

From Prevention

You’ve probably seen jars of bee pollen available at your local health food store, and it’s becoming more popular on menus as a smoothie add-in, salad ingredient, or finishing touch to an açai bowl. Proponents of the powdery substance say it has tons of health-boosting benefits ranging from immune support to heart health. But how can you benefit from bee pollen, exactly?

What is bee pollen, anyway?

Bees collect pollen from flowering plants and mix it with digestive enzymes. They then transport this mixture, known as bee pollen, back to beehives and store it there as a source of food for the rest of the hive. The substance, along with other bee-related products like honey and beeswax, have long been collected and used as a natural health supplement.

Because many of the studies supporting the potential benefits of bee pollen were performed on rodents, we don’t know how much those results apply to humans. “There aren’t any benefits supported by a robust evidence base,” explains Ryan Andrews, R.D., of Precision Nutrition. That doesn’t mean bee pollen is useless, per se—it just means much more research is needed in order to establish definitive claims. But here’s what we know so far:

What are the potential benefits of consuming bee pollen?

1. It’s packed with nutrients.

Bee pollen is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Though the exact nutritional makeup of bee pollen depends on which plant the pollen was taken from, a 2012 analysis published in Molecules found that 22 samples of organic bee pollen collected in Portugal averaged 67.7{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} carbohydrate content, 21.8{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} crude protein, 5.2{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} crude fat, and 2.9{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} ash. The samples also contained substantial phenolic compounds, including flavonoids—the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University notes that flavonoids might be linked to vascular health, blood sugar control, and other health benefits.

2. It may help alleviate allergies.

“Many people use bee pollen to treat seasonal allergies,” says Sofia Norton, R.D. Studies on the anti-allergic properties of bee pollen in humans are limited, so most allergy-related claims stem from research performed on rodents. For a 2008 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers gave bee pollen phenolic extract (BPPE) to mice and rats with ovalbumin-induced allergies. Data showed that BPPE reduced the production of IgG1 and IgE antibodies, both associated with allergic reactions, and helped protect the rodents against anaphylactic shock.

3. It has anti-inflammatory properties.

“Bee pollen is rich in flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are antioxidant compounds that inhibit the action of inflammatory enzymes in your body,” Norton explains. A study published in the International Journal of Advanced Research in 2015 found that bee pollen improved inflammation in albino rats with prostatitis (a swelling of the prostate gland).

Photo credit: bhofack2 - Getty Images
Photo credit: bhofack2 – Getty Images

4. It may be healing for your liver.

A 2016 study published in the Turkish Journal of Medical Sciences found that bee products, including bee pollen, helped rats heal from liver damage. Researchers think that this is linked to the antioxidant properties of bee pollen. A 2013 study, also performed on rats, found that bee pollen helped protect liver cells from oxidative stress and promoted cell healing.

5. Bee pollen may also help heal burns.

A 2016 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine studied the healing of burn wounds on two pigs. Researchers found that topical application of bee pollen sped up healing time when compared to untreated wounds, wounds treated with a salt solution, and wounds treated with silver sulfadiazine (a common burn wound disinfectant). Study authors believe bee pollen could be available in burn therapy, and have called for further research in this area.

6. It may have anti-cancer properties.

According to research published in Phytotherapy Research in 2007, bee pollen extract might cause prostate cancer cells to die. The research was conducted on isolated cells in test tubes rather than on humans or live animals, meaning that considerable further research is needed to see if bee pollen could help treat cancer.

7. It can help lower your cholesterol.

Animal studies suggest that bee pollen extract might help lower LDL cholesterol levels (a.k.a., the “bad” cholesterol). A 2017 study in Nutrients observed mice that were fed a high-fat diet to induce atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty material on artery walls). Mice that were also given bee pollen extract were less likely to have atherosclerosis, and had much healthier cholesterol levels.

Photo credit: JLGutierrez - Getty Images
Photo credit: JLGutierrez – Getty Images

Are there downsides to consuming bee pollen?

1. Bee pollen may itself trigger an allergic reaction.

The Mayo Clinic notes that bee pollen allergies are rare, but says they can cause adverse reactions including wheezing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and arrhythmia. A 2012 case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal details how a 30-year-old woman experienced an anaphylactic shock after taking bee pollen supplements, causing facial swelling, shortness of breath, hives, trouble swallowing, and lightheadedness. The patient was successfully treated with epinephrine, diphenhydramine, and IV fluids, and advised to stop taking bee pollen supplements after a skin allergy test showed a strong reaction to bee pollen.

2. It could interfere with certain medications.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you should be cautious about taking bee pollen if you already take warfarin, prescribed to treat blood clots. Bee pollen can interact with warfarin and increase your chances of bruising or bleeding.

3. It’s not always sustainably sourced.

“Make sure to avoid supplement companies acquiring pollen in a way that’s destructive to bee populations,” Andrews says. “Bees are an essential part of earth’s biodiversity. While some of the pollen bees collect from plants will be mixed with salivary gland secretions or nectar and stored back at the beehive—this is bee pollen—some of this pollen is necessary for plant pollination, and it will be transferred to different plants to allow for fertilization. As humans, we want to avoid interrupting this process of pollination.”

How to safely consume bee pollen:

If you’re interested in trying bee pollen supplements, experts say you should consult your doctor first to see if it can interfere with any medications or health conditions. The NIH rates bee pollen as “possibly safe” when taken by mouth for up to 30 days at a time, but it should be avoided if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or allergic to pollen.

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