Trending – Bee Pollen

It's not just seasonal allergies people associate with pollen. In this post, we look at a trending ingredient, bee pollen. 

What is bee pollen?

Bee pollen, sometimes called "bee bread" or "ambrosia," is the pellet-shaped food bees use to feed their hive. It contains pollen from many plants, nectar, and honey bee enzymes secreted by salivary glands (1,2).

It contains high concentrations of nutrients, including biologically active micronutrients like minerals, polyphenols, and vitamins, making it valuable as a nutritional source for humans.

Humans have consumed bee pollen as a food, dietary supplement, and (folk) medicine for thousands of years (1).

Is all bee pollen the same?

No, bee pollen varies significantly in composition and nutrient content based on the region the bee pollen was collected, the ecological habitat, and the season (1).

The bees' location also determines what, if any, contaminants may be present in the bee pollen.

What is it used for?

Bee pollen is a food people often use as a dietary supplement to help improve human health.

Due to bee pollen's composition, researchers have looked at bee pollen's potential to impact our health in six ways (1,2):

  • Anti-allergenic: improve seasonal and other allergies
  • Anti-atherosclerotic: reduce cardiovascular disease risk
  • Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal: reduce bacteria and fungi's ability to reproduce
  • Anti-carcinogenic: reduce cancer risk
  • Anti-inflammatory: reduce inflammation 
  • Anti-oxidative: slow damage to cells caused by free radicals 

In theory, bee pollen contains the correct nutrients and micronutrients (like minerals, polyphenols, flavonoids, vitamins, etc.) to help improve our health. However, it's yet to be proven clinically, so it cannot be used or prescribed as a regulated, therapeutic medication (1).

Can it treat health conditions?

While bee pollen contains many nutrients and micronutrients known to aid in human health, bee pollen has not been shown in clinical studies to cure or significantly improve specific medical conditions. Therefore, it's not regulated as medication and should not be used to treat medical conditions (1).

You can buy and use bee pollen as a nutritional or dietary supplement.

If you have a medical condition that you think bee pollen may improve, it's best to work with your physician before starting any dietary supplements, including bee pollen.

Is it regulated? 

Currently, manufacturers sell bee pollen in the United States as a dietary supplement which means it doesn't receive premarket evaluation before it's available for sale.

In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has removed bee pollen-containing supplements from the market because they contained illegal or improperly advertised ingredients (1,2). As with all dietary supplements, it's essential to know the source of your bee pollen.

Is it safe to eat?

For most individuals, bee pollen is safe to consume in regular quantities. However, there are some risk factors to consider when sourcing and before consuming bee pollen.

There is potential contamination in bee pollen, including heavy metals, mycotoxin-producing molds, bacteria, and more (1,2,3).

The most significant concern is around mycotoxin-producing molds and bacteria, which can cause adverse health outcomes. It's important to know the source of any bee pollen you choose to consume to ensure it's adequately vetted for any potentially harmful contaminants.

Additionally, individuals with allergies to bee stings or severe allergies to pollen and pregnant or nursing individuals and young children under the age of two should avoid consuming bee pollen or consult with a state-licensed medical professional before using it.

What about pesticides and herbicides in bee pollen? 

Researchers have looked at pesticides and herbicides residues that may be present in bee pollen and have determined they do not pose a health risk based on currently available science (1).

The good news.

Bees are more than pollinators and honey producers, they also produce safe, edible pollen we can enjoy. Bee pollen may even have healthful properties we've yet to discover as researchers continue to explore this bee food. 

If you have any questions about foods and ingredients, please reach out to us on Twitter, send us an email, or submit your idea to us at go.msu.edu/cris-idea

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