Bee pollen is an age-old traditional remedy and “superfood”. People use it for liver protection, immunity, and more, but what does the evidence say? Click to learn the potential benefits and risks of bee pollen consumption, and see if it can protect you against the coronavirus.
What is Bee Pollen?
Bees collect parts of flower pistils, mix them with nectar and saliva, and take them to the hive to nourish their offspring. Beekeepers use special traps to separate pollen grains from bees’ legs as they enter the hive — that’s how we get the product known as bee pollen [1, 2].
Due to its rich and diverse nutritional content, bee pollen (BP) has gained nicknames such as the “essence of flowers” or “perfectly complete food.” It widely varies in composition, and there are no two identical samples of bee pollen [3, 4].
A high nutritional value, along with the presence of different bioactive compounds, has granted bee pollen the status of a “functional food” and a well-known traditional remedy. Modern science has been researching BP for a range of potential therapeutic effects .
Folks have praised the nutritional value and medicinal properties of bee pollen for millennia; the ancient Egyptians described it as the “life-giving dust.” The widespread use of pollen traps in the 19th century marked an expansion in BP popularity and scientific research .
People have used bee pollen to treat bacterial infection, boost digestion and immunity, support the liver, and more. A wide array of BP nutrients supposedly give energy, improve athletic performance, and prevent malnutrition .
- Highly nutritious
- Helps with prostate enlargement
- Relieves menopausal and PMS symptoms
- May protect the liver and heart
- May combat bacterial infections
- Some products are contaminated
- May cause allergic reactions
- May not be safe for pregnant women
- Lacks solid clinical research
In general, bee pollen abounds with macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and different bioactive components. The exact content can vary a lot, depending on the origin, climate, plant quality and condition, seasonal variations, and more .
Bee pollen roughly consists of :
- Carbs (40%): sugars and polysaccharides
- Protein (35%): all essential amino acids
- Fats (5%): omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
- Water (4–10%)
- Vitamins, minerals, and more
It contains different enzymes and minerals, all known vitamins, and over 20 trace elements. Vitamins include both fat-soluble (A, D, E) and water-soluble (B1, B6, C, folic acid) .
BP has a near 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which makes it an amazing balanced source of healthy fats. It’s also a calorie-dense food with around 400 kcal/100 g .
When it comes to components with medicinal properties, bee pollen is rich in polyphenols, carotenoids, and polysaccharides. Flavonoids top the list of polyphenols and include [7, 10]:
Scientists have identified different growth regulators, hormones, and antioxidants in BP samples. However, the presence and amount of bioactive components also vary, depending on the factors mentioned above .
Mechanism of Action
The primary health effects of bee pollen include:
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory (flavonoids and other polyphenols) [11, 12, 13, 14]
- Immune-modulating (polysaccharides) [15, 16, 17]
- Anti-cancer (phytosterols, polysaccharides, and fatty acids) [18, 19, 5]
Preliminary research brings up the potential of BP to combat an array of pathogenic microbes, mostly bacteria [9, 20].
Health Benefits of Bee Pollen
1) Prostate Pain and Inflammation
The European Association of Urology recognizes bee pollen as a safe and effective complementary treatment for prostate pain and inflammation .
A review of 10 clinical trials and 590 patients tested the efficacy of different pollen extracts, including bee pollen, for prostate inflammation and pelvis pain. Around 84% of patients responded to the treatment. It significantly improved their quality of life without causing any adverse effects .
In 100 patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostate enlargement, a specific bee pollen-based product (Cernilton) improved sexual dysfunction and quality of life .
Bee pollen may reduce the need for prostate biopsy in people with elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Among 61 patients, a one-month treatment reduced PSA in those with pelvis inflammation but not in those with prostate cancer .
2) Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause causes a substantial drop in estrogen levels, often followed by a range of unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and more .
In a trial of 54 menopausal women, a product with bee pollen extracts (Femal) reduced hot flushes in 68% of the cases (compared with 32% on placebo). After a three-month treatment, hot flushes dropped by 27% on average .
Another product with bee pollen, bee bread, and royal jelly (Melbrosia) significantly improved menopausal symptoms in two clinical trials. One trial had no placebo control, and the other didn’t reveal the number of participants, which casts doubt on the reported results [26, 27].
Anti-estrogen drugs used for breast cancer, such as tamoxifen, can cause menopausal symptoms. In 46 women on this treatment, both bee pollen and honey were more effective than placebo in reducing hot flushes and other symptoms. However, adding bee pollen to honey produced no additional benefits .
3) Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Before and during the period, hormone fluctuations can contribute to sleep and mood disturbances, pain, and other symptoms collectively known as PMS .
The mentioned product, Femal, has been used in Scandinavia as a complementary PMS treatment for decades. Two studies of 130 women have confirmed its potential to reduce milder symptoms of PMS. It was particularly effective for premenstrual sleep disturbances (PSD) [30, 31].
The following benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies and preclinical research. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of bee pollen for any of the below-listed conditions.
4) Blood Lipids and Heart Health
Bee pollen is rich in flavonoids with well-known beneficial effects on the heart .
A supplement containing bee pollen (Melbrosia) reduced LDL and total cholesterol while increasing HDL in a trial of 50 women. However, it also increased triglycerides. The lack of placebo control prevents us from drawing reliable conclusions, too .
In mice with an increased risk of heart disease, bee pollen was able to [33, 34]:
- Reduce LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides
- Increase antioxidant enzymes
- Prevent LDL oxidation and atherosclerosis
Animal and Cellular Research (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of bee pollen for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Even though plant pollen is a well-known allergen, traditional medical uses of bee pollen include allergy prevention. So far, this use is based on anecdotal evidence and limited preclinical research.
Bee pollen reduced allergic response, dropped IgE levels, and protected the lungs in mouse models of allergy. It was able to prevent the activation of mast cells, which is the cornerstone of an allergic reaction [35, 36].
Flavonoids such as myricetin are praised for their anti-allergic properties and are likely responsible for the observed effects. However, people prone to allergies should be extremely cautious with bee pollen (see “Side effects” below) .
Lab tests have revealed a potent inhibitory effect of bee pollen on a range of bacteria, such as [38, 39, 40]:
- S. aureus, causing respiratory and skin infections
- E. coli, causing urinary tract infections
- P. aeruginosa, causing severe hospital-acquired infections
It also prevented the growth of Candida and other fungi but to a lesser degree. Despite the promising lab results, we should wait for clinical evidence before proclaiming bee pollen an effective antibacterial remedy [41, 20].
Bee pollen provided robust antioxidant protection in different animal models of liver injury from [42, 43, 44, 45, 46]:
- Bacterial infection
- Chemical poisoning
- Alcohol consumption
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Unhealthy diet
These findings look promising and call for further investigation of liver-protective effects in humans.
Potent anti-inflammatory effects of bee pollen stem from its high content of flavonoids and other polyphenols. In different animal experiments, it was able to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation .
In a study on mice, pine pollen was equally effective as two drugs at reducing pain and inflammation .
Cancer and Chemotherapy Side Effects
The findings discussed below stem from animal and cell-based studies. They should guide further investigation but shouldn’t be interpreted as supportive of the anti-cancer effects. Bee pollen-based products aren’t approved for cancer prevention or treatment.
Bee pollen is rich in immune-stimulating polysaccharides, such as glucans and galactans, researched for their potential anti-cancer effects [16, 49].
In mice with soft tissue and skin cancers, polysaccharides from BP :
- Suppressed tumor growth
- Enhanced the immune response
- Improved blood abnormalities such as anemia
In studies on mice treated with cisplatin and other chemotherapeutics, bee pollen protected the liver, kidneys, and DNA from oxidative damage [50, 51, 52].
In test tubes, BP suppressed the growth of different cancer cells, especially prostate cancer. When combined with chemo, it increased drug effectiveness and reduced the negative impact on healthy cells [19, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57].
However, the above studies don’t imply the actual anti-cancer effects in living organisms.
According to a review of preclinical studies, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects of bee pollen may help clean wounds and support their healing. Pollen and other bee products are common ingredients in skincare products, but their therapeutic effects on wound healing require further investigation .
Many professional athletes take bee pollen as a nutritional supplement, but the available evidence doesn’t support the claims about increasing athletic performance and stamina .
Can Bee Pollen Help With Weight Loss?
Different manufacturers promote their bee pollen-based products as effective for weight loss, but there’s no evidence to back up these claims.
The FDA banned one such product from China — Zi Xiu Tang — contaminated with illegal and dangerous weight-loss drug, sibutramine. They received over 50 reports of adverse events from other products that were likely contaminated as well [60, 61].
With this in mind, you may want to steer clear of suspicious bee pollen-based products claiming to shed extra pounds.
Limitations and Caveats
The main issue with bee pollen is the wide variation in its content of nutritional and bioactive compounds. The benefits of one particular product may not translate to other products with different compositions .
The available clinical evidence is scarce and mostly comes from low-quality trials. Literature reviews of bee pollen benefits tend to draw unreliable conclusions from preclinical research .
With the ongoing COVID-19 virus outbreak, you’re probably wondering if bee pollen can prevent or treat infections caused by this virus. Before we examine the facts, please note that the 2019 coronavirus is new, and we still lack reliable clinical data. No effective or FDA-approved products are yet available to treat or prevent it.
In a small study of 20 professional swimmers, a six-week supplementation with pollen extract significantly reduced “the number of training days missed due to upper respiratory tract infections” (4 days vs. 27 days with placebo) .
In mice with lung injuries, bee pollen significantly reduced inflammation and improved lung function .
These studies may indicate the potential of bee pollen to prevent respiratory infections and protect the lungs, but they don’t tell us anything about the effects on this particular virus.
Active components from plant pollen inhibited the spreading of three flu virus subtypes (H1N1, H3N2, and H5N1) in test tubes. Even though the flu virus shares some features with COVID-19, that doesn’t imply the same effects of pollen components on the other one .
Side Effects and Precautions
In clinical studies, bee pollen-based products haven’t caused any notable side effects. The potential dangers come from contaminated products that may contain illegal substances, mold, bacteria, pesticides, and other toxins [64, 65, 66].
Some people use bee pollen to relieve seasonal allergies, but, in others, it may trigger dangerous allergic reactions. Even though the oral intake is not the same as respiratory exposure or skin test, caution is warranted in people with pollen or bee sting allergies [67, 68, 69].
Always start with a lower dose (see “Dosage” below) and discontinue the product right away if you experience:
- Breathing difficulties
Due to the lack of safety data, pregnant and nursing women may want to avoid bee pollen just in case.
According to a single case report, bee pollen may increase the risk of bleeding when combined with blood thinners such as warfarin. Avoid this combination to stay on the safe side .
How to Use Bee Pollen
Bee pollen has a pleasant flowery taste and makes a great addition to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, sweets, and juices.
It’s important to grind or crush pollen grains before consuming them to increase nutrient absorption. According to one paper, this increases the nutrient availability from 10-15% to 60-80% .
Bee pollen is also available as a supplement in the form of pills, capsules, or powder. Due to potential contamination, it’s crucial to buy BP from reputable companies or local beekeepers you trust.
Other bee products include:
- Bee bread or Perga
- Royal jelly
They have many common features, but each one has unique benefits you may prefer.
Clinical trials on bee pollen are few, and they have used different, unstandardized BP extracts (150-300 mg). It’s hard to determine the precise recommended dosage, but traditional uses suggest up to 3-5 teaspoons for adults and 1-2 teaspoons for children [31, 9, 71].
Start with a much lower dose — ¼ teaspoon or just a few grains for children — and observe for the signs of an allergic reaction. If you tolerate BP well, you can gradually increase up to the maximum doses above .
The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment. Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on SelfHacked.
People take bee pollen for seasonal allergies and energy boost, and most of them report positive results. It was effective in a couple of cases of hot flushes in women and prostate enlargement in men. That said, some reviews seem suspicious and promotional.
On the other hand, some users report unpleasant allergic reactions to bee pollen and headaches. They also suggest starting with low doses and observing your response.
Bee pollen is a nutritious product composed of flower pistils, nectar, and bee saliva. It’s widely used as a dietary supplement and traditional remedy for digestion, immunity, liver health, and more.
Bee pollen is high in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. It may help with prostate enlargement, menopausal symptoms, and PMS. Other potential benefits lack clinical evidence.
Buy bee pollen from reputable sources only and gradually increase the dosage up to 3-5 teaspoons a day. People with seasonal and bee sting allergies should consult with their doctor before taking BP, while pregnant and nursing women should avoid it.