bee pollen health benefits

Bee Pollen: Does It Really Make Skin Youthful?

Bee Pollen

What is it?

Balls of pollen gathered from flowers and packed into pellets by worker bees. The pollen is often mixed with bee saliva and nectar during the packing process and provides nutrition for bees.

The health claims?

  1. Bee pollen is a complete superfood that is packed with vitamins and minerals, especially energising B vitamins
  2. It is a great source of protein
  3. It is a potent anti-ageing food
  4. When applied topically bee pollen can treat eczema and psoriasis
  5. It can stop the progression of cancer

The scientific facts?

  • Bee pollen’s unique mix of nectar, honey, pollen and saliva may sound a little gross, but it’s what makes the superfood supplement nutritionally rich. The yellow balls provide virtually all the protein and vitamins that bees need to carry out their work, so it’s unsurprising that bee pollen is high in B vitamins (which help the cells of the body generate energy), vitamin C, A and E as well as essential fatty acids, amino acids and folic acid.
  • Each ball is around 35% protein, which is a lot of protein for a bee, but a human taking the anecdotally recommended 3-5g of the supplement per day gets less than 2g of protein from the yellow health food. Not impressive.
  • The alleged superfood is often added to lotions and creams that claim to soothe and soften inflamed skin. But before you rush out to stock up on bee pollen lotion, bear in mind there is actually no scientific evidence to support this health myth.
  • One very old study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1948, suggested that bee pollen helped to decrease the growth of cancer tumours in mice. This may be where the health claim that bee pollen stops cancer progression arose from. More up-to-date studies have been unable to replicate this finding. But attempts to do so have unearthed interesting results, like this, which demonstrate that the natural supplement can help decrease hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause.
  • Studies have shown that bee pollen is a source of carotenoids – a type of antioxidant. However, the amount of the potentially anti-ageing antioxidant contained in a dose of the super-food varies greatly between different bee colonies. This means that, at least in theory, bee pollen could help ward of the signs of skin ageing… if you choose the right type.

Health tip: It’s thought that small doses of pollen may help cure individuals with pollen allergies by gradually desensitising their bodies to the inflammation-triggering effects of pollen. But those with serious pollen allergies should seek medical advice before supplementing with bee pollen to avoid accidentally triggering a life-threatening anaphylactic response.

Nutritional facts 

This is the point at which I usually compare a superfood with its closest competitor to see if it is nutritionally superior to everyday foods. But given bee pollen’s unique composition, there is no real competitor. So, here is the nutritional breakdown for 1 level teaspoon (4g) of the yellow stuff for you to decipher for yourself:

  • Kcals: 16
  • Carbohydrate: 2.18g
  • Sugar: 1.79g
  • Fibre: 0.4g
  • Protein: 1.2g
  • Fat: 0.24g
  • Miscellaneous vitamins and minerals: Bee pollen contains modest amounts of potassium, beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C, B vitamins and folic acid.

Worth the hype?

No. There is little evidence to support the majority of the claims made about bee pollen. And to make matters worse, it’s not cheap, costing around £14 for 50g worth of bee pollen tablets. There are better, scientifically-validated super-food sources of protein, antioxidants and vitamins (like spirulina, buckwheat and honey) that you’d be better off adding to your diet to achieve the alleged benefits of bee pollen.

(Photo credit: morganglines via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA)

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