Medically reviewed on May 17, 2018
Scientific Name(s):Produced by the honeybee, Apis mellifera L.
Common Name(s): Bee pollen , honeybee pollen
Although bee pollen is nutritionally rich, claims that it enhances everyday and athletic performance have not been reliably verified. It has been traditionally used for a variety of purposes, including relief of constipation; treatment of prostatic conditions, such as prostatitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and prostate cancer; wound healing; and for its proposed antioxidant action. It also has been promoted as an energy booster, immune system strengthener, and vitality enhancer. Bee pollen has been used to prevent hay fever, but there is a risk of severe allergic reaction with this practice. It may also relieve premenstrual syndrome and climacteric symptoms associated with menopause.
The best recommended dose of bee pollen is unknown. Doses vary among products because tablets contain differing amounts of bee pollen. Manufacturers' recommendations may provide more guidance.
None well documented.
Clinical data regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation are lacking. However, use in pregnant rats resulted in fetuses with higher birth weights and decreased death rates, suggesting that bee pollen may be an effective prenatal nutrient. 1
None well documented.
Ingestion produces allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Attempts to hyposensitize patients by administering bee pollen may produce severe anaphylaxis and other acute or chronic responses. Although rare, bee pollen can cause serious, sometimes fatal, adverse reactions. Some case reports of acute hepatitis and photosensitivity following ingestion of bee pollen have been reported.
Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicity with the use of this product.
Bee pollen consists of plant pollens collected by worker bees combined with plant nectar and bee saliva, usually a mixture of pollen species from several different plants. The pollens are packed by the insects into small dust pellets that are then used as a food source for the male drones. Commercially, the pollen is gathered at the entrance of the hive by forcing the bees to enter through a portal partially obstructed with wire mesh that brushes the material off the hind legs into a collection vessel. Because of the increasing popularity of bee pollen as a health food, this means of pollen collection has been supplemented by collection directly from the hives.
The use of bee pollen increased during the late 1970s following testimonials by athletes that supplementation increased stamina and improved athletic ability. Although bee pollen has been used in certain cultures for thousands of years, its popularity has become more widespread in recent years due to its potential health benefits. Products containing bee pollen have become widely available in health food stores and drugstores, as well as online.
Bee pollen is a nutritional source for drone bees. It has been described as “nature's perfect food” and is a highly concentrated food source containing a complex supply of quality nutrients. A number of traditional Chinese herbal formulas contain bee pollen. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, and amino acids, and contains approximately 30% protein, 55% carbohydrate, 1% to 2% fat, and 3% minerals and trace vitamins. 2 Vitamin C concentrations of 3.6% to 5.9% have also been found in some samples. 3 Promotional literature lists up to 100 vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, and other identified compounds. However, the physiologic importance of many of these components is poorly understood. Bee pollen preparations often contain mixtures of pollens from diverse types of plants that vary with geographic origin.
Uses and PharmacologyPerformance enhancer
Articles in the popular press suggest that athletes could enhance performance by ingesting bee pollen; however, an investigation conducted by the National Athletic Trainers' Association with Louisiana State University swim team members found no beneficial effect. 4Animal data
In a pilot study, 10 Arabian horses were randomized to receive either Dynamic Trio , a product containing 55% bee pollen, or placebo consisting of 50% red wheat bran, 25% evaporate cane juice crystal sugar, 17% baking flour, and 8% powdered apple peels for 42 days. At baseline, the horses performed a standard exercise test. During the study, they continued to participate in horsemanship classes and were ridden throughout the week. Additionally, the horses performed the standard exercise test twice weekly, with a gradual increase in exercise intensity. At the end of this study, there were no treatment differences for V 150 and V 200 , values of projected velocities at heart rates of 150 and 200 bpm, respectively. No changes were noted in heart rate, or in lactate, hematocrit, or hemoglobin levels. Horses receiving bee pollen tended to digest more neutral detergent fiber and acid detergent fiber. Additionally, they had less phosphorus excretion and tended to retain nitrogen. Thus, the product containing bee pollen may only be beneficial in the performance of horses by increasing food intake and nutrient retention. 5Clinical data
A 2-year, double-blind study found bee pollen “absolutely not a significant aid in the metabolism, workout training, or performance” of athletes. 6 The results of another study conducted in track athletes suggested that runners who took bee pollen recovered faster after exercise and that bee pollen would therefore be of value in relieving common tiredness and lack of energy. Critics of this study found the test group to be small, the blinding inadequate, and the conclusions premature. 7 Another 6-week study in 20 competitive swimmers found no differences in strength and endurance tests between those treated with bee pollen and those treated with placebo (cod liver oil). However, it was noted that swimmers treated with bee pollen missed fewer days (4 days) of training because of upper respiratory tract infections compared with those treated with placebo (27 days). The study was not designed to statistically assess this observation. 8Prostatic conditions
Cernilton , an extract of bee pollen, has been used in prostatic conditions for its presumed anti-inflammatory and antiandrogenic effects. 9 A single dose of Cernilton contains 60 mg of Cernitin T60 (a water soluble pollen extract fraction) and 3 mg of Cernitin GBX (an acetone-soluble pollen extract fraction). Because Cernilton has antiandrogenic effects via relaxation of urethral smooth muscle tone and increases in bladder muscle contraction and/or acts on alpha-adrenergic receptors and relaxes internal and external sphincter muscles, it may be effective. 10Animal data
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of bee pollen in the treatment of prostatic conditions.Clinical data
There is a growing body of evidence involving the use of bee pollen for the management of prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Studies using Cernilton have shown modest improvement in urological symptoms, but have been limited by their short duration, small number of participants, and questionable standardization of preparations. 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14
A systematic review of clinical trials assessing the efficacy of Cernilton in men with symptomatic BPH was published in 2000. Two placebo-controlled trials and 2 comparative trials enrolling 444 participants receiving treatment for 12 to 24 weeks were included in the review. The weighted mean relative risk of self-improvement for those receiving Cernilton versus placebo was 2.4 (range, 1.21 to 4.75) and versus Tadenan (an extract from the African plum plant) was 1.42 (range, 1.21 to 4.75). Nocturia was reduced with Cernilton therapy compared with placebo, with a relative risk of 2.05 (range, 1.41 to 3). When compared with Paraprost (a mixture of amino acids), the weighted mean difference for nocturia was −0.4 times per evening (range, −0.73 to 0.07). Cernilton did not reduce prostate size, improve urinary flow rates, or improve residual volume when compared with placebo or active comparators. The only reported adverse effect with Cernilton was nausea. 10
Different doses of Cernilton for the prevention of BPH progression were assessed in a comparative study. Men with BPH (N = 240) received Cernilton 375 or 750 mg twice daily for 4 years. Patients receiving the higher dose of Cernilton experienced a more obvious improvement in the International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS), prostate colume, postvoid residual urine, and Q max assessments compared with those receiving the lower dose ( P < 0.0001). Additionally, patients receiving the higher dose of Cernilton experienced improvements in IPSS and Q max after 3 and 6 months of therapy compared with 6 and 9 months in those receiving the lower dose. 15
The efficacy of Cernilton N for the treatment of chronic prostatitis syndrome was assessed in 90 patients. The supplement was administered as 1 tablet 3 times daily for a 6-month period. The participants were divided into 2 groups, those with complicating factors (n = 18), such as urethral strictures, prostatic calculi, and bladder neck sclerosis, and those without complicating factors (n = 72). Seventy-eight percent of patients without complicating factors experienced a favorable response with Cernilton N therapy. Thirty-six percent were cured of their symptoms, and 42% improved in measures such as flow rate, leukocyturia in post–prostate massage urine, and complement C3/coeruloplasmin in ejaculate fluid. Only 1 patient with complicating factors demonstrated a response. Thus, consideration for complicating factors may be an important determinant for successful treatment. 16
One study evaluating the effects of the chloroform extract of bee pollen from Brassica campestris , a plant used as an herbal defense against cancer in China, found that the steroid extract could induce cytotoxicity in prostate cancer PC-3 (human) cells via apoptosis. 17 Additional studies of bee pollen in the treatment of prostate cancer are needed.Premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms
In a study of mice, Melbrosia , a product containing pollen, perga-pollen (bee bread), and royal jelly, was given in doses of 6, 60, and 600 mg/kg orally for 3 days to groups of 10 immature rats. Subcutaneous Melbrosia was administered in the same doses to groups of 12 ovariectomized rats for 3 days. Estrogenic effects were not evident with Melbrosia therapy. 18Clinical data
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, the effect of Femal (an herbal remedy containing pollen extract 36 mg, combined pollen and pistil extract 120 mg, and royal jelly 6 mg) on premenstrual syndrome (PMS) was assessed in 32 women with regular menstrual cycles. Each participant received Femal or placebo for 2 consecutive menstrual cycles, followed by the alternate treatment for 2 more consecutive cycles. Three women dropped out of the study and 29 participants were included in the analysis. Overall symptoms such as irritability and dysphoria were improved, and 6 of 9 symptom scores were reduced by 27% to 57%. Evidence also suggested a slow onset of action (no effect was noted between Femal and placebo after the first cycle of treatment) and protracted effect, considering that the placebo group first experienced a reduction in symptoms. Except for sleep quality, there were no differences in symptoms in participants receiving Femal before placebo. Weight gain was reduced by 50% in participants treated with Femal compared with placebo. The results suggest that Femal may be beneficial in improving PMS symptoms. However, the results of this study should be interpreted cautiously because there was no wash-out period, which raises doubt given that the authors found a carry-over effect, and a preliminary phase designed to eliminate placebo responders was not conducted. 19
Melbrosia is used in Europe and contains the active ingredients phytosterols, phytoestrogens, amino acids, oligopeptides, and enzymes. 20 The effects of Melbrosia on ameliorating climacteric symptoms were clinically assessed. Two groups of women were followed; 32 served as a control group and 34 received Melbrosia . Patients receiving therapy experienced a reduction in the Kupperman menopausal index. Specifically, it was most effective on nervousness, anxiety, irritability, headache, and hot flashes. No changes were noted in gonadotropin, estradiol, or lipid values. Thus, products containing bee pollen may serve as potential treatment options for patients suffering from climacteric symptoms associated with menopause. 21
Similarly, another randomized, placebo-controlled study in women with severe menopausal symptoms found that the use of Melbrosia resulted in improvements in headache, urinary incontinence, vaginal dryness, and decreasing vitality. However, no changes in biochemical parameters were noted. 22
In an open, multicenter, uncontrolled, prospective observation study, the effects of Melbrosia on menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular risk markers were assessed. Fifty-five postmenopausal women with climacteric complaints received 2 capsules of Melbrosia once daily for the first 2 weeks, followed by 1 capsule daily for the remaining 10 weeks. Twenty-seven of the 55 patients underwent laboratory assessment of cardiovascular risk markers, including cholesterol and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. A significant reduction in the standardized Kupperman score ( P < 0.001) and other symptom measuring tools (ie, Zerssen Symptoms List and Zung Depression Score) was noted with treatment. Improvements were also demonstrated in problem-solving ( P = 0.0015) but not in self-esteem or self-assessment. Additionally, patients experienced worsening of irritability with Melbrosia therapy ( P < 0.001). Total cholesterol ( P = 0.03), low-density lipoprotein ( P = 0.0053), and high-density lipoprotein ( P = 0.018) improved with Melbrosia . However, triglyceride levels increased significantly ( P = 0.0088). CRP levels were not significantly different with Melbrosia therapy ( P = 0.37). Thus, products containing bee pollen may not only improve menopausal symptoms but may improve most cholesterol parameters. 20Other uses
Other potential uses of bee pollen include combating the effects of aging, treating respiratory infections, treating endocrine disorders, and relief of enteritis, colitis, and constipation. Bee pollen administered to rats was also found to possibly display antiaging effects. 23 Bee pollen may possess antioxidant effects 24 that may be attributed to polyphenol substances, such as quercetin, caffeic acid, pinocembrin, and galangin, among others. One study found that bee pollen and propolis extracts inhibited respiratory burst, a transient increase in oxygen consumption following the production of reactive oxygen species, within cancer cell lines. This effect was attributed to the antioxidant potential. 25 Another study found that bee pollen modulated antioxidant enzymes in the livers, brains, and lysates of erythrocytes in mice, and hepatic lipid peroxidation also decreased. 26 Bee pollen has been reported to immunologically strengthen multiple sclerosis patients being treated with prednisolone and Proper-Myl , a yeast preparation. 27
The best recommended dose of bee pollen is unknown. Doses vary between products because tablets contain differing amounts of bee pollen. Manufacturers' recommendations may provide more guidance.
Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats fed bee pollen had fetuses with higher birth weights and decreased death rates, suggesting that bee pollen may be an effective prenatal nutrient. 1 However, clinical data regarding safety and efficacy of bee pollen in pregnancy and lactation are lacking.
None well documented.
Reports of adverse reactions with bee pollen have been related to allergic reactions after ingestion by sensitive individuals.
Allergic reactions have been reported after single doses among patients with a history of allergic rhinitis. The dose required to precipitate an acute allergic reaction was less than bee pollen 15 mL. 28 The development of hypereosinophilia, as well as neurologic and GI symptoms, in a woman who ingested bee pollen for more than 3 weeks was reported. 29 Allergic symptoms resolved upon discontinuation of the preparation.
Although infrequent, some reports of severe allergic reactions to bee pollen have been observed. A man 33 years of age with no prior allergies had an acute anaphylactic reaction 15 minutes after ingesting bee pollen. He recovered fully after emergency medical treatment with epinephrine, Ringer's lactate, and methylprednisolone. 30
One study describes an anaphylactic reaction in an atopic patient who ingested a small quantity of bee pollen. He had previously responded to a course of allergen immunotherapy to treat allergic rhinitis. The case report highlighted that oral ingestion of even small quantities of pollens can cause anaphylaxis in sensitized atopic individuals. 31
In another report of anaphylaxis, a man 46 years of age with a history of seasonal allergic rhinitis took a 5 mL dose of bee pollen to treat his hay fever symptoms. Fifteen minutes later, he developed paroxysm of sneezing, and by 30 minutes experienced generalized angioedema, itching, dyspnea, and light-headedness. He recovered following treatment with epinephrine, corticosteroids, and diphenhydramine. 2
The reactivity of bee pollen was assessed in 145 atopic patients and 57 healthy volunteers. All patients received skin-prick testing with 6 standard aeroallergens (olive, grasses mix, Parietaria, mugwort, Dermatophagoids pteronyssinus , and Dermatophagoids farinae ) and with homemade bee pollen extracts. There was a strong correlation between cutaneous reactions to bee pollen extracts and olive, grasses mix, and mugwort. Additionally, strong cutaneous reactions to bee pollen were observed in atopic patients compared with healthy volunteers. 32
There is a popular but ill-advised home practice of using bee pollen to treat allergic disorders. Despite the usually limited response to oral hyposensitization techniques and the potential for severe allergic reactions, this practice has spread considerably. Anaphylactic reactions can occur within 20 to 30 minutes of ingestion of even small amounts of bee pollen.
Bee pollen may also cause a photosensitivity reaction in some patients. A case report of a woman 32 years of age describes the presence of a pruritic, erythematous rash located on the sun-exposed portions of her neck and extremities. She had no past medical history. The only medication that she had been taking was Metabolife 356 , an herbal weight loss remedy containing multiple constituents, one of which was bee pollen, for 1 month. The patient was advised to discontinue the herbal remedy and take hydroxyzine. However, this was not effective for the rash. Two days later, she was given a subcutaneous injection of triamcinolone, topical corticosteroids, and desloratadine. The rash subsequently resolved over several days. The patient never restarted Metabolife 356 . Although it is difficult to discern the exact ingredients or combination of ingredients responsible for this response, bee pollen may cause a photosensitivity reaction in some patients. 33
Two case reports of acute hepatitis following bee pollen ingestion have been reported. In one report, a woman 33 years of age had been taking 2 tablespoons of pure bee pollen daily for several months and subsequently developed sharp mid-epigastric and right upper quadrant pain. Liver function tests were elevated upon evaluation. Although she was taking several other medications, only the bee pollen was discontinued. Within 6 weeks, a complete resolution with normalization of laboratory values occurred. In the second report, a man 69 years of age was taking 14 tablets daily of a mixed herbal product containing bee pollen. He developed worsening pruritus and nausea, followed by anorexia, weight loss, and jaundice. The only other medication this patient was taking was metoprolol tartrate. Liver function tests were elevated upon presentation. Within 8 weeks of discontinuation of only the herbal product, his symptoms dissipated and liver function tests normalized. 34
Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicity with the use of this product.
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