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Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly,
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
"Bee pollen" is actually pollen from flowers that
is collected from bees as they enter the hive or is harvested
by other means. Pollen granules stick to the bees' legs and other
body parts as they help themselves to nectar (the precursor of
honey) inside the flowers. Pollen products are marketed through
health-food stores, multilevel distributors, drugstores, mail-order
advertising, and the Internet [A,B,C,
Promoters call bee pollen "the perfect food" and
stress that it contains all of the essential amino acids and many
vitamins and minerals . However, none of these nutrients offers
any magic, and all are obtained easily and less expensively from
conventional foods. The CC
Pollen Company of Phoenix, Arizona, has also claimed:
It has been estimated that honeybee pollen contains over 5,000
enzymes and coenzymes, many times more than any other food. .
. . Enzymes in the body are not only necessary for perpetual
healing and digestion but for life itself. Without enzymes, life
is impossible. Also, enzymes protect against premature aging.
It has been reliably stated that only honeybee pollen contains
all known enzymes in perfect proportion and perfect balance.
The above statement is erroneous. Pollen does not contain all
known enzymes, and even if it did, that would not contribute to
human health. The enzymes in plants and other species of animals
help regulate the metabolic functions of their respective species.
When ingested, they do not act as enzymes within the human body,
because they are digested rather than absorbed intact into the
Bee pollen has also been claimed to improve athletic and sexual
performance; slow the aging process; promote both weight loss
and weight gain; prevent infection, allergy, and cancer; and alleviate
more than 60 other health problems.
No scientific study supports any claim that bee pollen is effective
against any human disease. The few studies that have been done
to test its effect on athletic performance have shown no benefit
[2-4]. In the mid-1970s, for example, tests conducted on swimmers
and cross-country runners found no difference in performance between
those who took bee pollen and those who took a placebo . A
six-week study of 20 swimmers published in 1982 found no performance
Royal jelly, which is secreted from the salivary glands of
worker bees, serves as food for all young larvae and as the only
food for larvae that will develop into queen bees. Like bee pollen,
it has been falsely claimed to be especially nutritious, to provide
buoyant energy, and to have therapeutic properties.
Bee pollen and royal jelly should be regarded as potentially
dangerous because they cause allergic reactions. People allergic
to specific pollens have developed asthma, hives, and anaphylactic
shock after ingesting pollen or royal jelly [5-12]. Neurologic
and gastrointestinal reactions have also been reported [13,14].
Some cases of asthma and anaphylaxis have been fatal. The potential
for serious reactions is widespread because at least 5% of Americans
are allergic to ragweed pollen, and bee pollen contains pollen
from ragweed or plants that cross-react with ragweed, such as
dandelions, sunflowers, or chrysanthemums [15,16]. It has been
speculated the presence of these allergens might enable regular
users to become desensitized (as would happen with allergy shots).
However, the odds of this happening are extremely small. Shots
deliver the pollen in significant and controllable amounts, whereas
bee pollen taken by mouth delivers unpredictable amounts that
get digested .
Bees are exposed to various bacterial and chemical contaminants
that might be incorporated in products for human consumption .
Although both bee pollen and royal jelly contain substances with
antibiotic properties, both can sustain the growth of disease-causing
organisms and neither has practical use as an antibiotic .
Contaminants can also be introduced during processing . In
1995, Montana Naturals International, in Arlee, Montana, had to
recall several thousand bottles of a bee pollen/royal jelly/propolis
mix because of contamination with lead.
Propolis, also called "bee glue," is a resinous substance
bees use to construct and maintain their hives. In laboratory
tests, propolis has exhibited a variety of interesting antimicrobial
and antitumor properties . However, it has little practical
use and can cause contact dermatitis and other allergic reactions
Federal Enforcement Actions
- In 1990, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained a consent
agreement barring American
Life Nutrition and American LifeFarFun, Inc., from making
various unsubstantiated claims for its bee pollen and four other
- In 1992, a federal court ordered destruction of quantities
of Bee Alive, a royal jelly and herb combination in honey
seized from Bee-Alive Inc.,
of Valley Cottage, N.Y. In 1989, the FDA had warned the company
that promotional material distributed with a similar product
had made illegal statements that the product was useful in treating
or preventing chronic Epstein-Barr virus syndrome, gastrointestinal
ulcers, colitis, low blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, nervous
breakdowns, infertility, impotence, depression, rheumatoid arthritis,
Alzheimer's disease, anemia, asthma, hemorrhoids, migraine headaches,
and other problems. Despite a promise to stop distributing literature
making these claims, the company continued to advertise that
Regina Royal Jelly could help children resist childhood ailments,
"offers daytime vitality and nighttime tranquility,"
increases mental and physical stamina, and "seems to improve
the immune system." Company president Madeline Balletta
still promotes Bee-Alive as a "super-food" whose
users (including herself) have been relieved from severe fatigue
- In 1994, the FTC obtained a consent agreement barring Bee-Sweet,
Inc., a North Carolina-based firm, from claiming that its
products could treat various physical ailments. Its ads had claimed
that, "Studies performed by doctors around the world have
shown bee pollen to be effective in treating illnesses from allergies
to arthritis, anorexia to overweight, fatigue to arteriosclerosis."
- In 1992, the CC
Pollen Company and its owners (Bruce R. Brown, Carol M. Brown,
and Royden Brown) agreed to pay $200,000 to settle charges that
they falsely represented that bee-pollen products could produce
weight loss, permanently alleviate allergies, reverse the aging
process, and cure, prevent, or alleviate impotence or sexual
dysfunction. The company and its owners were also charged with
falsely stating that bee-pollen products are an effective antibiotic
for human use and cannot result in an allergic reaction. Under
the agreement, the company and its owners were prohibited from
making all of these claims and are required to have scientific
evidence to support any other health-related claims about any
other product for human consumption. Some of the false claims
were made in "infomercials" that were misrepresented
as news or documentary programs, even though they were paid ads.
During one infomercial, entitled "TV Insiders," host
Vince Inneo falsely implied that the program was part of a series
of independent investigations. The products offered during the
infomercial were Bee-Young, Pollenergy (to "restore
missing energy'), Royal Jelly ("to keep sexually
active at any age"), President's Lunch, and First
Lady's Lunch Bar. The infomercial producer TV,
Inc., signed a separate consent agreement.
Although violation of an FTC consent agreement can trigger
large penalties, Royden Brown continued to promote bee pollen
illegally. In May 1994, S&S Public Relations Inc., of Chicago,
issued a letter stating: "It's allergy season, but many sufferers
aren't suffering anymore. They're using Aller-Bee-Gone, bee pollen
tablets that are credited with relieving the symptoms of allergies,
asthma, and other respiratory ailments." The accompanying
news release added that Brown's lifetime goal was "to eliminate
degenerative disease worldwide through the use of bee pollen.
However, a few weeks later, bee pollen's most colorful promoter
died following injuries sustained in a fall.
For Additional Information
Quackwatch Home Page
This article was revised on September
- Is honeybee pollen the world's only perfect food? (Booklet)
Phoenix, AZ: CC Pollen Company, 1984.
- Steben RE, Boudroux P. The effects of pollen and pollen extracts
on selected blood factors and performance of athletes. Journal
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jelly consumption and hypersensitivity in the community.
Clinical and Experimental Allergy 27:333-336, 1997.
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neurologic, and gastrointestinal symptoms after bee pollen ingestion.
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helps some allergy victims, but for most people it's a waste
of money. Forbes, April 25, 1995, p 414.
- Fleche C and others. Contamination
of bee products and risk for human health: Situation in France.
Revue Scientifique et Technique 16:609-19, 1997.
- Sanford MT. Pollen
marketing. Fact Sheet ENY-118. Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences, University of Florida. Feb 1995.
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of the biological properties and toxicity of bee propolis.
Food and Chemical Toxicology 36:347-363, 1998.
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allergy (I): Origin, properties, usage and literature review.
Contact Dermatitis 17:163-170, 1987.
- Ben Kinchlow and Madeline Balletta have a secret they want
to share with you. They both have major responsibilities and
hectic schedules. They both travel extensively. They have a secret
. . . a God-given food that has already helped hundreds of thousands
of Christians. Advertisement in Human Events, Aug 20, 1999, p
Web site, Accessed Aug 22, 1999.