bee products

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

As worker bees conduct their daily business--maintaining their hive, providing for the queen bee, collecting pollen--they unwittingly produce substances that some enthusiasts consider valuable in healing. Health-food stores and nutrition shops often carry five of these products: propolis, royal jelly, bee pollen, beeswax, and raw honey.

Propolis is the sticky resin that bees collect from pine tree buds to seal cracks and sterilize their hives. It's also known as bee glue. Propolis has been shown to contain antibacterial compounds and can be effective as a salve for cuts and bruises. Orally, it is also used for its antibacterial properties and as a source of flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage caused by Free radicals.

Royal jelly is the nutritious, creamy white substance that the worker bees pump out of their salivary glands to keep the queen bee well-nourished, fertile and long-living. There have been numerous claims about royal jelly’s beneficial effects on a variety of medical problems, including fatigue, infertility, asthma, and lack of appetite. But the claims are mainly anecdotal and have not yet been substantiated in clinical testing. Interestingly, however, animal and human studies have shown that royal jelly contains ingredients capable of lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. Based on its effect on the queen bee, royal jelly occasionally appears as an ingredient in women’s cosmetics, especially wrinkle creams. There is no evidence that royal jelly retards aging (or aging skin) in anyone except bees, however.

Bee pollen is collected by beekeepers from the supplies that bees have extracted from flowers of certain plants. In some cases, products labeled as bee pollen have actually been collected from the plant by humans without any involvement on the part of bees. It’s typically marketed as an energy-boosting Nutritional supplement. While it contains vitamins, minerals and Protein, bee pollen does not have more nutrients than most ordinary foods. Some advocates believe bee pollen is a beneficial treatment for seasonal allergies, because ingesting small amounts builds up resistance to pollen. Claims that bee pollen helps athletes improve performance or that it slows the aging process are not backed up by any scientific evidence, however.

Beeswax, a natural wax secreted in the abdomens of worker bees, is used to build honeycomb cells in the hive to raise their young and store honey and pollen. The wax is collected by beekeepers and used in products like candles and polishes (such as shoe polish and furniture polish). Derivatives of beeswax also have been shown to have therapeutic properties, particularly in lowering blood cholesterol. 

Raw honey is made from the nectar bees collect from flowers. It is a quick source of energy (like sugar) and a natural storehouse of B vitamins and various minerals. It has mild Antibiotic properties, and it can help soothe sore throats. Those who use it believe that raw honey, which has not been filtered, heat-treated, or processed in any way, is more healthful than processed honey. In some studies, raw honey has been used to suppress bacterial growth, particularly in open wounds.

Another bee product, honeybee venom, is also used medicinally in a therapeutic process called apitherapy, or bee venom therapy (BVT). The venom is said to be powerful in stimulating the production of cortisol, a natural steroid that also acts as an anti-inflammatory. Therefore, BVT is often used for conditions of inflammations, such as tendonitis, bursitis and rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. For more information on this, see the WholeHealthMD library entry on Apitherapy.

Health Benefits

The popularity of traditional bee products shows little sign of abating. Laboratory studies in the test tube and in small animals abound. The Chinese, in particular, have examined bee products intensively.

Enthusiasts tout bee pollen, which contains varying amounts of Protein, B vitamins, carbohydrates, and enzymes, as a near cure-all. The Chinese have used it as a nutrient source for centuries. In Germany, government authorities consider bee pollen valuable for increasing appetite and countering weakness and fatigue. However, these same nutrients can easily be obtained today from other sources at much less effort and expense, and with much less potential risk for allergic individuals.

Unfortunately, most of the enthusiastic claims made for the various bee products--that they promote weight loss, slow the aging process, combat bacteria and increase immunity, and boost overall energy and athletic performance--have little or no scientific backing. Royal jelly, in particular, may promote the vigorous growth, fertility and longevity of queen bees, but the evidence to support its value for a similar benefit in humans is lacking.

In sum, only a handful of the multiple claims made for bee products are well-founded.

Specifically, bee products may help to:

Relieve seasonal pollen allergies (hay fever). The hallmarks of hay fever--sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose--may lessen under the influence of bee pollen treatment. The regimen probably works as a result of the body's desensitization to the pollen's allergens. When you repeatedly expose yourself to pollen in minute amounts, your immune system gradually learns to recognize the offending substance and then forgoes launching an extreme reaction to it. Allergy shots work in a similar way. Advocates of this approach urge the use of pollen collected from local bees, because it probably contains the actual plant-based substances that you are having a reaction to and that you require protection against. A 2006 study examined the characteristics of sting reactions and risk factors for developing systemic reactions in Turkish beekeepers with a history of sting exposure in the previous 12 months. Of the 444 beekeepers, 55 percent reported more than 100 bee stings in the previous years: only 6.5 percent reported systemic reactions, and 2 percent had anaphylactic (life-threatening) reactions. Because the overall percentage of beekeepers with systemic reactions was low, researchers concluded it was most likely because of the protective effect of a high frequency of bee stings. (1) The systemic reactions that occurred after a bee sting were significantly more likely to occur among beekeepers who were also affected by seasonal allergies, food allergies, asthma, or atopic diseases. In a previous study of antibody responses to allergens, beekeepers with hay fever did not seem to have an increased incidence of allergic reactions to bee venom, and beekeepers with no history of hay fever had high levels of antibodies to rye grass pollen. Researchers concluded bee stings may enhance the body’s immune response to pollen antigens. (2) 

Improve menopausal symptoms. Preliminary studies have found extracts of pollen as well as combinations of pollen and royal jelly may relieve menopausal symptoms. A 1994 placebo-controlled study that found Melbrosia (a mixture of flower pollen, fermented bee pollen and royal jelly) was more effective than placebo for menopausal symptoms, including headache, urinary incontinence, vaginal dryness, and low vitality. (3) Then in an uncontrolled 1997 Danish study, Melbrosia was shown to help relieve menopausal symptoms in about one-third of women. (4) However, in most studies, placebo also works at least that well; so this is not convincing evidence of benefit. Melbrosia does not work by causing estrogen-like effects; so, if efficacious, it may be useful for women who cannot tolerate hormone therapy.  

Treat PMS. While studies are very limited in this area, researchers believe bee pollen and royal jelly may help to relieve symptoms of PMS. A 2002 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Danish study found a combination product (Femal, Natumin Pharma), which contains bee pollen and pistil extracts and royal jelly, improved PMS symptoms of irritability, weight increases, and edema in women when taken over a period of two menstrual cycles. (5) More research is needed to confirm these results.  

Boost energy and improve sports performance. Because bee pollen is rich in nutrients, it is marketed as an energy-booster and has been used all around the world as such. Some athletes believe using pollen extracts enhances their performance. Clinical studies in this area have not supported this belief, but research is limited. In a 1982 study of 20 adolescent swimmers who received pollen extract supplementation for six weeks and who were training every day, maximum oxygen uptake increased in both the treatment and control groups. Vital capacity showed a significant increase in the treatment group but not the placebo group. However, the number of training days missed due to upper respiratory tract infections was four days in the pollen treatment group, compared to 27 days in the control group. Researchers concluded that improved performance by the pollen group was a result of fewer interruptions to training rather than a direct benefit of the supplementation. (6) A prior study also showed no correlation between athletic performance or stamina and bee pollen supplementation. (7) 

Reduce respiratory tract infections. Propolis has inherent antimicrobial activity that protects the hive from viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. In vitro (laboratory) studies have shown the antimicrobial properties may protect against upper respiratory infections and the common cold in humans. (8-11) A 2004 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 430 children ages one to five years who received an herbal extract preparation (Chizukit) of Echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C or placebo for 12 weeks in winter found the preparation reduced the number of respiratory tract infections in the treatment group by 55 percent, the number of episodes per child by 50 percent, and the number of days with fever per child by 62 percent. The number of sick days and the duration of each episode also was significantly lower in the treatment group. As this was a combination product, it’s unclear what specific benefit can be attributed to propolis. (12) However, a previous study also showed propolis may be effective in boosting the immune system, specifically in battling upper respiratory infections. (13) 

Preliminary clinical evidence has shown propolis alone might be helpful in treating the common cold. In one Polish study of 50 patients with common cold infections who were treated with propolis or placebo, the duration of the cold was shortened. A regression of symptoms occurred in the first day of therapy, and complete recovery followed in one day in five patients, in two days in 16 patients, and in three days in three patients. In the placebo group, the mean recovery time was 4.8 days. (14) However, the evidence in this area remains limited. More research is needed to rate the efficacy of propolis for these uses. 

Boost the immune system and prevent cancer. In vitro and animal studies have shown that propolis can speed the death of liver cancer cells. (15) And a 2007 review of in vitro and animal studies found the anti-inflammatory properties of propolis may help stimulate the activity of natural killer cells against tumor cells. (16) Preliminary animal studies have shown that bee pollen also contains cancer chemopreventative properties, free radical scavenging properties, and protection against the effects of harmful radiation and toxic exposure to chemical solvents. (17-19) Similarly, initial studies in humans indicate bee products may stimulate the immune system and have anti-tumor properties. (20)  

Ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Certain enzymes and peptides in bee venom battle inflammation and inhibit flare-ups. While therapy with bee venom can be applied “naturally” by holding a bee to the skin until it stings, studies have found that injections of a water-soluble bee venom formulation, called Bee Venom Acupuncture (BVA), into certain acupuncture points may be more effective. (21, 22) Another 2002 animal study found honeybee venom suppressed the erosion of joint cartilage and arthritic inflammation in rats. (23) 

Lower cholesterol. Nearly a dozen human studies have been published on the cholesterol-lowering effects of royal jelly supplementation and injection. A 1995 detailed analysis of the double-blind studies in this group found oral preparations of royal jelly can decrease total cholesterol levels by about 14 percent in patients with moderate to severe elevations in blood cholesterol levels. And, better results may be noted when using higher-quality royal jelly products. (24) A meta-analysis of studies has shown that policosanol, derived from beeswax, can effectively lower both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Its action seems similar to that of widely prescribed statin drugs and may be even more effective. (25-27)  

Improve fertility. While anecdotal evidence has shown the potential of royal jelly in improving fertility, scientific evidence has been limited to animals, specifically ewes. A 2002 animal study of three groups of ten ewes that received either royal jelly capsule, royal jelly injection, or were placed in a control group showed the ewes that received royal jelly treatment had more frequent periods of fertility, shorter intervals between fertile periods, and higher rates of pregnancy. (28) 

Prevent premature aging. Some animal studies indicate royal jelly protects tissue DNA from oxidative damage, increasing lifespan. A 2003 study of mice receiving royal jelly for 16 weeks found supplementation extended the average survival of mice by about 25 percent compared to a control group, possibly by reducing oxidative damage. (29)  

Treat asthma. While there are claims that royal jelly can be used to treat asthma, most of the research in this area has shown royal jelly induces asthma attacks. More research is needed in this area. 

Heal abrasions, cuts, and bruises. Propolis  may play a role in helping to heal wounds by virtue of its bacteria-fighting compounds and skin-softening properties. Preliminary research also suggests applying raw honey topically to infected post-surgical wounds speeds healing time, increases eradication of infection, and decreases hospital stay. (30) And, applying honey topically may also improve healing of mild skin ulcerations, wounds and sores. (31, 32) However, standard antibiotics (including over-the-counter Antibiotic ointments) have been shown to be more effective and reliable in combating skin infections. (33) 

Treat stasis ulcers. Interest in the use of honey to treat venous stasis ulcers has been widespread as a result of anecdotal evidence indicating efficacy. While few studies have evaluated honey for this use, the few small studies available have indicated potential therapeutic benefits. In 2004 four-center feasibility study using Medihoney (a proprietary blend of honeys), 40 patients whose leg ulcers had not responded to 12 weeks of compression therapy continued another 12 weeks of compression therapy with Medihoney dressings applied. During the study, overall ulcer pain and size decreased significantly, and odorous wounds were promptly deodorized after treatment. (34)


  • tablet
  • softgel
  • powder
  • lozenge
  • liquid  
  • cream
  • capsule

Dosage Information    

--Bee pollen: A standard dosage of bee pollen is usually one to three tablespoons a day.

--Propolis: A standard dosage of propolis is usually 100 to 400 mg three times daily.

--Royal jelly: A standard dosage of royal jelly is 50 to 250 mg of royal jelly one to two times daily.

--Beeswax: No typical dosage has been determined for beeswax.

Specifically, for the following conditions:

--For seasonal allergies (hay fever): A standard daily dosage of bee pollen for allergy symptoms begins with three or four granules, or part of a tablet or capsule. Work up gradually to one to three rounded teaspoons of granules, or follow package directions for tablets or capsules. See the information below for details on how to start a bee pollen regimen.

--For PMS: Two tablets twice a day of a specific combination containing 6g royal jelly, 36 mg bee pollen extract, and 120 mg bee pollen plus pistil extract (Femal, Natumin Pharma) per tablet for two menstrual cycles has been used.

--For skin abrasions and minor wounds: Apply a small amount of propolis (bee glue) to the abrasion or wound twice daily, and then cover with a lightweight gauze or other dry dressing to protect the area. 

Guidelines for Use

  • When treating allergy symptoms, keep in mind that the amount of bee pollen needed varies from person to person.

  • If you have allergies, take extra care to monitor your reaction. Start out with a very small amount daily, perhaps a portion of a tablet or a few granules. Very slowly then, in increments over days, increase your dose to that recommended on the package.

  • Warning signs of an allergic reaction to bee pollen include hives, itchy throat, skin flushing, and wheezing. Discontinue use immediately if these symptoms develop.

  • Stay with a single bee pollen source once you have determined a dosage, because the pollen content may vary among products.

  • Drink plenty of water with bee pollen supplements.

  • When taking bee pollen in fresh or dried form, try sprinkling it over a bowl of oatmeal or other food or mixing it with juice.

  • General Interaction

    There are no known drug or nutrient interactions with bee products.

    Possible Side Effects

  • Such reactions as wheezing, headache, itchy throat, hives, or skin flushing signal an allergy to bee products. Discontinue use immediately if these symptoms develop.

  • Severe allergic reactions (including anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal) are possible and can be very serious, requiring immediate emergency medical attention.

  • Cautions

  • If you develop any side effects after taking a bee product, discontinue use right away.

  • Remain vigilant for signs of an adverse reaction as you increase the dosage of bee pollen for allergy symptoms.

  • If you have asthma or an allergy to bee stings, don't take royal jelly and be sure to exercise extreme caution in taking any other bee products.

  • If you have asthma or an allergy to bee stings, carefully inspect prepared and packaged foods for bee products--including apparently innocuous "healthy" ones, such as fruit smoothies.
  • References 

    1. Celikel S, Karakaya G, Yurtsever N, et al. Bee and bee products allergy in Turkish beekeepers: determination of risk factors for systemic reactions. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2006 Sep-Oct;34(5):180-4.
    2. Kemeny DM, Miyachi S, Platts-Mills TA, et al. The immune response to bee venom. Comparison of the antibody responses to phospholipase A2 with the response to inhalant antigens. Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol. 1982;68(3):268-74.
    3. Szanto E, Gruber D, Sator M, et al. Placebo-controlled study of melbrosia in treatment of climacteric symptoms. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1994;144:130-3.
    4. Kristoffersen K, Thomsen BW, Schacke E, Wagner HH. Use of natural medicines in women referred to specialists. Ugeskr Laeger. 1997;159:294-6.
    5. Winther K, Hedman C. Assessment of the Effects of the Herbal Remedy Femal on the Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2002;63:344-53.
    6. Maughan RJ, Evans SP. Effects of pollen extract upon adolescent swimmers. Br J Sports Med. 1982 Sep;16(3):142-5.
    7. Steben RE, Boudroux P. The effects of pollen and pollen extract on selected blood factors and performance of athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1978;18:271-8.
    8. Drago L, De Vecchi E, Nicola L, Gismondo MR. In vitro antimicrobial activity of a novel propolis formulation (Actichelated propolis). J Appl Microbiol. 2007 Nov;103(5):1914-21.
    9. Tichy J, Novak J. Detection of antimicrobials in bee products with activity against viridans streptococci. J Altern Complement Med. 2000;6:383-9.
    10. Tosi B, Donini A Romagnoli C, Bruni A. Antimicrobial activity of some commercial extracts of propolis prepared with different solvents. Phytother Res. 1996;10:335-6.
    11. Dobrowolski JW, Vohora SB, Sharma K, et al. Antibacterial, antifungal, antiamebic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic studies on propolis bee products. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;35:77-82.
    12. Cohen HA, Varsano I, Kahan E, Sarrell EM, Uziel Y. Effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing Echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C in preventing respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study.
    Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004 mar;158(3):217-21.
    13. Crisan I, Zaharia CN, Popovici F, et al.
    Natural propolis extract NIVCRISOL in the treatment of acute and chronic rhinopharyngitis in children. Rom J Virol. 1995;46:115-33.
    14. Szemja Z, Kulczynski B, Sosnowski Z, Konopacki K. [Therapeutic value of flavonoids in Rhinovirus infections]. Otolaryngol Pol. 1989;43(3):180-4.
    15. Choi YH, Lee WY, Nam SY, et al. Apoptosis induced by propolis in human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line. Int J Mol Med. 1999;4:29-32.
    16. Sforcin JM. Propolis and the immune system: a review. J Ethanopharmacol. 2007 Aug 15;113(1):1-14. Epub 2007 May 22.
    17. Lee SK, Song L, Meta-Greenwood E, et al. Modulation of in vitro biomarkers of the carcinogenic process by chemopreventative agents. Anticancer Res. 1999;19:35-44.
    18. The Review of Natural Products by Facts and Comparisons. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Co., 1999.
    19. Ceglecka M, Wojcicki J, Gonet B, et al. Effect of pollen extracts on prolonged poisoning of rats with organic solvents. Phytother Res. 1991:5;245-9.
    20. Bratter C, Tregel M, Liebenthal C, Volk HD. [Prophylactic effectiveness of propolis for immunostimulation: a clinical pilot study.] Forsch Komplementarmed. 1999;6:256-60.
    21. Kwon YB, Lee HJ, Han JH, et al. The water-soluble fraction of bee venom produces antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects on rheumatoid arthritis in rats. Life Sci. 2002 May 31;71(2):191-204.
    22. Lee JD, Park HJ, Chae Y, Lim S. An Overview of Bee Venom Acupuncture in the Treatment of Arthritis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 Mar;2(1):79-84.
    23. Kang SS, Pak SC, Choi SH. The effect of whole bee venom on arthritis. Am J Clin Med. 2002;30(1):73-80.
    24. Vittek J. Effect of royal jelly on serum lipids in experimental animals and humans with atherosclerosis. Experientia. 1995;51:927-35.
    25. Castano G, Mas R, Fernandez JC, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of policosanol compared with lovastatin in patients with type II hypercholesterolemia and concomit
    Date Published: 04/18/2005

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