Written by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE | Published on February 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on February 9, 2015
Know your pollen.
In the spring and summer months, bees can be a major nuisance, bothering our picnics and buzzing around our sweet drinks. But next time you are tempted to swat that bee out of the way, reconsider. Bees provide a valuable service by pollenating flowers and providing honey. Can the pollen bees collect as they buzz from flower to flower provide us with any health benefits? Read on to find out!
Packed with Nutrition
Pollen from flowers is collected by bees and serves as their food source in the hive. This has led some to believe that pollen might be a good supplement source for humans as well.
Bee pollen is nutritious, providing about 45 calories per teaspoon. It contains a great mix of essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and a bit of fat. Bee pollen also provides some vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, though the types and amounts of these nutrients vary depending on the flowers that the bees collect the pollen from.
Pollen in Medicine
Bee pollen has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. It can be taken orally as a memory enhancer and a diuretic, and has been used for abdominal issues such as abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. It can also be used topically for skin problems, such as eczema and diaper rash. There are no scientific studies to support these uses, but it remains a popular remedy.
Bee pollen has also been gaining popularity in the United States, especially as a popular sport supplement, with some people touting its ability to improve performance. Studies to date do not support this claim, though one small study showed that swimmers who took bee pollen were less likely to get respiratory infections, which can have an impact on performance.
Other Possible Benefits
Cancer Treatment: Bee pollen may be of some use for those undergoing cancer treatment. One small study showed that women undergoing radiation to treat uterine cancer had less negative side effects when they took bee pollen.
Multiple Sclerosis: A mixture of bee pollen, honey, royal jelly, and propolis was found to be beneficial for some with multiple sclerosis, though this was a small study and needs to be confirmed prior to recommending bee pollen.
Prostate Problems: Bee pollen is believed to be a supplement that benefits people with prostate problems, such as prostate hyperplasia (enlargement). Cernilton, an extract of bee pollen, has been used to help those with prostate issues. According to a review, studies evaluating the effectiveness of this extract were limited by their short duration, number of participants, and other issues. The available evidence suggests that Cernilton is well tolerated and modestly improves some symptoms such as nighttime urination.
Allergies: Bee pollen is also used during allergy season to reduce allergy symptoms. This can be dangerous, as pollen is often the offending substance for people with allergies, and can lead to an increase in allergic reaction, some of which may be severe.