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August 18, 2020

Bee pollen seems to be the nutritional choice of the “who’s who” lately. Meghan Markle (a.k.a. Duchess of Sussex) pours it over her favourite breakfast—an acai bowl with assorted fruit, honey and coconut flakes. Victoria Beckham—fashion designer and singer formerly known as Posh Spice—says that she eats bee pollen daily to keep her skin looking young and wrinkle-free.

Bee pollen began its meteoric rise to fame when Beckham tweeted about it back in 2014. Since then, it has been making headlines as a superfood with broad health benefits. And its domain has stretched beyond the world of pop culture into legitimate medical circles. The German Federal Board of Health officially recognizes bee pollen as a medicine.

So what exactly is bee pollen and what do you stand to gain by making it part of your diet? We’ll aim to answer those questions in this article.

What is it?

Bees subsist on pollen. They venture out into nature and collect pollen from flowers. In the process, the pollen gets mixed with nectar and bee saliva (try not to think too hard about that part) and becomes what is known as a “pollen ball.” These balls are then carried in sacs on the bees’ hind legs back to their honeycomb. This pollen is the bee colony’s daily bread. In fact, it’s referred to as “bee bread.”

Along the way, clever human beings have figured out a way to harvest this bee pollen for its benefits. Beekeepers install a thick comb-like contraption on the entrance to the beehive. When the bees pass through it, the comb knocks some of the pollen off of their legs into a bin below. This triggers the bees to head right back out to gather even more pollen and the process continues.

This process might make you think of Sisyphus, the figure in Greek mythology who ran afoul of Zeus and was consigned to forever rolling a large stone up a hill, only to have it slide right back down again. But don’t worry. Harvesters do catch some of the bee pollen, but not enough to render the bees’ efforts completely futile. They still end up with enough to feed the hive. That said, it’s probably still a good idea to seek out an ethical source of bee pollen to assure that the bees it came from are not being harmed in any way.

What are its benefits to humans?

Bee pollen is a nutritional powerhouse, containing proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fatty acids, antibiotics and more. Quantities will vary depending on when and where the pollen was sourced. For example, bee pollen is especially popular as a protein source, but pollen harvested in springtime tends to contain more amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than that collected in summer. And the plant source matters, too. Pollens from the date palm contains nearly 35% protein, but pollen from other trees may be considerably lower.

Bee pollen has been associated with the following health benefits:

  • Combatting disease. Depending on which plant it is sourced from, bee pollen can contain high levels of antioxidants. This helps protect your body against “free radicals,” which are unstable atoms that can damage cells in the body. Free radicals have been linked to diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight loss. Some studies have established a link between bee pollen and lean muscle growth as well as improved metabolism.
  • Reducing allergies. Research has shown that ingesting bee pollen can help desensitize your body to pollens in your area. This theory builds on the concept behind allergy immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy). With these treatments, your body is introduced to small amounts of local pollen and eventually learns to stop overacting to it. Just make sure that the pollen has been sourced from the plants and trees that you are allergic to.
  • Boosting immune function. In addition to helping your immune system figure out how to react properly to pollens in the environment, bee pollen has also been shown to strengthen your immune system’s ability to fight off potentially dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and those that lead to staph infections.
  • Reduces inflammation. One study showed that bee pollen reduced swelling in rats by 75%. This is likely because bee pollen contains antioxidants that reduce swelling and inflammation. Other compounds in bee pollen have been shown to minimize the production of inflammatory hormones.
  • Accelerates wound healing. If you burn your skin, the go-to salve in the medical community is Silvadene—a topical cream that can ease pain and keep your wound from getting infected as it heals. Research on animals, however, has shown that bee pollen can provide similar relief and protection without the side effects.
  • Relieves menopause symptoms. Whether you are dealing with hot flashes, night sweats, erratic moods, or poor sleep, bee pollen could help. One compelling study showed that 71% of female participants said that their menopausal symptoms improved significantly when they were taking bee pollen.

Does it have any risks?

The research behind bee pollen is evolving. Many animal studies have yielded impressive results. Studies are starting to be conducted on humans that corroborate those results. As it stands, many professionals agree that the potential benefits of bee pollen outweigh the risks.

That said, people with pollen or bee sting allergies have been advised to avoid bee pollen due to increased risk for an anaphylactic reaction. It is also contraindicated for people on blood thinners as well as for pregnant and lactating women (as its effect on infants has not been evaluated).

What’s the best way to get your daily dose?

Bee pollen can be added to yogurt, processed into smoothies or sprinkled on top of hot or cold cereal. It can also be used as a topper for salads, toast with a shmear of almond butter or meat and veggie bowls. As an alternative to eating bee pollen, you can take it in the form of immunity support capsules.

How do you store it?

Bee pollen doesn’t stand up well to heat or UV rays. In order to get the most out of it, you should store it in a cool, dry place. I personally prefer to store it in the refrigerator or freezer. If stored properly, bee pollen should be good for approximately three years.

Although bee pollen is trending right now, I predict that it won’t fizzle out like some other passing health food fads. This nutrition-packed supplement has far too many promising applications to simply fade away.

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