Products derived from beehives may be the original superfoods. Although these folk remedies date back thousands of years, scientific research has documented the benefits of bee foods and provided a sound explanation of how they work. They can reduce inflammation, protect against free radicals, and help you fight infections.
The three bee foods that have garnered the most research are propolis, royal jelly, and honey. You’ll also find bee pollen granules in health food stores, which have benefits for allergies. Many of the benefits of bee foods can be attributed to a family of potent plant antioxidants called polyphenolic flavonoids. Bees obtain the building blocks for propolis, royal jelly, and honey from plants, so all of these bee foods are rich in natural antioxidants.
Bees make propolis from the resinous sap of trees and use it much the same way people use weather stripping at home—to seal their hives against the elements. Some 300 different compounds have been identified in propolis, including resveratrol.
Bees are particularly susceptible to microbial infections, and given this, it shouldn’t be surprising that propolis possesses antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Studies have found that propolis can inhibit the growth of viruses, including herpes simplex type 1 and 2.
Propolis seems to work against disease-causing bacteria in at least two different ways: preventing reproduction and breaking down the membranes of bacteria, leading to their destruction. Propolis can fight Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that causes dangerous and potentially deadly post-surgical infections, blood poisoning, and a type of pneumonia. A European study found that propolis extracts had a significant synergistic effect when used with antibiotics to fight S. aureus.
Interestingly, propolis inhibits the activity of several streptococcal bacteria species that cause cavities. Japanese researchers report that propolis-fed lab rats had far fewer cavities than those given a regular diet. Propolis protected specifically against Streptococcus mutans and several other strep species.
2. Royal jelly
Royal jelly is the exclusive food of queen bees, which are larger and live longer than other bees. Recent studies have reported that the distinctive composition of royal jelly modifies the genes of female larva in a way that produces queen bees.
An analysis of human studies found that royal jelly can reduce high levels of total cholesterol, as well as normalize levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Based on the research, Jozef Vittek, MD, of the New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, suggests that 50–100 mg daily of royal jelly should reduce total cholesterol levels by about 14 percent.
Royal jelly may also have anti-cancer effects. Researchers report that royal jelly reduced tumor sizes and extended life span in mice with sarcoma. Another study found that royal jelly inhibited the growth-promoting effect of bisphenol A (BPA), a toxin found in some plastics, on breast cancer cells.
Honey has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes. At least 181 compounds have been identified in honey, and four of them—p-hydroxybenzoic acid, naringenin, pinocembrin, and chrysin—have documented antioxidant, antibacterial, and germ-fighting properties.
Throughout much of the Third World, doctors use honey-soaked gauze to treat burns, wounds, and skin infections. Doctors at the medical college in Maharashtra, India, used honey-soaked gauze to treat 40 burn patients; those treated with honey healed in about half the time as those treated by other means.
The biological activity of honey varies. Try to use honey that has undergone minimal processing.
Always follow label directions for any supplement you choose. For the vast majority of people, bee foods are extraordinarily safe. However, if you have pollen allergies or are at risk of an anaphylactic reaction, please consult a physician with knowledge of natural remedies before taking any bee products. Never give honey to infants less than one year of age.