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Bee Pollen

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Bee pollen is plant pollen carried by bees to the hive where it is gathered by placing brushes at the hive's entrance knocking the pollen off the bees as they enter. Bee pollen is said to consist of 40% plant carbohydrate, 5% plant fat, and 5% plant protein--the remaining 50% is fungus, bacteria, insect body parts and hairs, mites, and bee fecal material [1]. As anyone with hay fever knows, pollens are among the most allergic substances in nature [2]. The popularity of idea that bee pollen is healthful is hard to understand considering the widespread public knowledge of allergies. However, one must also take into consideration the fascination many have with any bee-related substance. Other bee-related items that have caught the public's fancy are royal jelly (fed to queen bees to make them fertile), propolis (the glue that holds hive parts together), honey (bee vomit), honey comb (bee's wax and vomit), and even bee stings for arthritis or multiple sclerosis. None of these have proven scientific value, and several have potential for harm. Although rare bee-related items can cause serious, even fatal reactions; to wit: royal jelly (an 11-year-old Australian girl with asthma died after taking royal jelly [3] bee pollen (allergic anaphylaxis [4]), honey (can be toxic [5-6] or cause infant botulism [7]), and bee stings (allergic anaphylaxis) [8].

Bee pollen came to the attention of sports medicine researchers after the 1972 Finnish marathon runners claimed that it improved their performance. Subsequent testing failed to confirm their beliefs.

Bee pollen is sold as a herbal remedy (pollen is a plant part which classifies it as an herbal). Because of poorly controlled manufacturing practices of herbal remedy makers, bee pollen capsules may be adulterated with many other substances. The most famous bee pollen success story of recent times occurred when Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) became convinced that bee pollen pills had cured his allergies. His enthusiasm motivated him to pursue the establishment of the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine. The product he used was Aller Bee-Gone, a secret-mix concoction which included more than just bee pollen hawked by Royden Brown of Arizona [9]. Not long after converting Harkin to his bee pollen cure, Brown's CC Pollen Company was fined $200,000 by the Federal Trade Commission for falsely claiming that his bee pollen products could cause consumers to lose weight, alleviate permanently their allergy symptoms, and reverse the aging process [10].

There is no reason to believe that bee pollen has special benefits. Although rare, it can cause serious adverse reactions to some users. Considering its cost and cleanliness, bee pollen is best left to the bees.

References

  1. Green S. "A prayer for Sen. Harkin and NIH research funding," The Cancer Letter. November 5, 1993, pl8.
  2. Newman C. "Pollen," National Geographic, October, 1984. pp.490-520.
  3. Phelan M. "Health warning on natural cures," Herald Sun (Melbourne) January 5, 1994.
  4. Pieroni RE, et al. "Miracle bee pollen: don't let your patients get stung," J Medical Assoc Alabama 1982;51(12):11-13.
  5. Shader RI, Greenblatt DJ. "Bees, ginseng and MAOI revisited," J Clin Psychopharmacology, 1988;8:235.
  6. Lampe KF. "Rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and mad honey," JAMA;1988;259:2009.
  7. CDC. "Honey exposure and infant botulism," MMWR 1978;27:247.
  8. Bee Venom, Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Feb, 1995.
  9. Miller L. "Alternative meet the mainstream: The man bee-hind the pollen allergy cure," USA Today, 7/22/93.
  10. "Arizona company agrees to pay $200,000 to settle FTC charges it made false health claims about bee-pollen products," FTC News Notes, December 30, 1992.

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© 1996 National Council Against Health Fraud. With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on December 18, 2000.