What it is: Busy bees, as we all know, flit from flower to flower gathering pollen. After it is mixed with plant nectar and bee saliva, the pollen gets compacted into pellets and serves as food for the rest of the hive.
How it works: Even though bee pollen contains pollen from plants, it can actually help combat hay fever. The body becomes desensitized to pollen's allergens after repeated exposure to minute amounts of bee pollen. (Allergy shots work in a similar way.)
Bee pollen also seems to relieve symptoms caused by prostate gland conditions. In a recent study of men with chronic prostatitis—marked by a frequent and urgent need to urinate, along with pain—symptoms improved or resolved more often in those who took pollen supplements daily for six months, compared with those taking a placebo (Urology, 2006, vol. 67, no. 1).
Notes: If you suffer from seasonal allergies, start with 3–4 granules or just part of a tablet/capsule each day. Work up to 1–3 teaspoons of granules or one 500 mg tablet twice daily. Allergic reactions are rare, but if you note symptoms—such as hives, wheezing, or itchy throat—discontinue use immediately.
More buzz-worthy options Bee bread (or ambrosia): This mixture of honey and pollen feeds worker bees. Its antioxidant activity exceeds that of vitamin E. Bee venom: Ancient Egyptians first used bee sting venom as an arthritis remedy; recent medical research on animals confirms this application. Beeswax: Made by worker bees and molded into the honeycomb for honey storage, beeswax is a key thickening agent and emulsifier in cosmetic products, especially lip balm. Honey: Wounds and burns heal more quickly when honey is used as a dressing. Research shows it inhibits the growth of bacteria and promotes healing.
What it is: Bees collect resin from plants and trees and mix it with wax to form propolis. This "bee glue" is used to coat the inside of the beehive with an antiseptic layer to keep bacteria, viruses, and other germs from entering the hive. When taken internally or used topically by humans, it provides these same antibiotic properties, according to a study published in a recent online edition of Microbiological Research.
How it works: Applying propolis directly to wounds speeds healing, thanks to its antibacterial and skin-softening effects. Propolis also stimulates the body's immune system. In one study, propolis extract protected schoolchildren from colds and other upper respiratory infections (Romanian Journal of Virology, 1995, vol. 46, nos. 3-4). Other researchers report that children taking propolis combined with echinacea and vitamin C daily during winter months caught fewer colds than kids taking a placebo. And when they did come down with colds, recovery time was quicker in the propolis group (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 2004, vol. 158, no. 3).
Notes: As an immunity booster, take a 500 mg tablet 1–2 times daily. Apply ointment or cream to wounds a few times a day. It's rare, but some people can get a skin rash using the topical form, and there is a slight risk of allergic reaction to the propolis pills.
What it is: Worker bees churn out royal jelly (a nutritious, creamy white substance) for the sole purpose of feeding the queen. Queen bees, because they consume this royal jelly, live for years, compared with mere weeks for the lowly worker bee. Traditionally, people in many Asian countries have taken royal jelly for its reputed rejuvenating effect.
How it works: Recent research on animals confirms that royal jelly indeed increases lifespan and improves energy levels (Experimental Gerontology, 2003, vol. 38, no. 9; Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 2001, vol. 47, no. 6).
Royal jelly also lowers cholesterol levels. A review of the numerous human studies of royal jelly and cholesterol showed that taking 50–100 mg daily of royal jelly reduces total cholesterol levels by about 14 percent (Experientia, 1995, vol. 51, nos. 9-10). This drop is enough to bring someone with moderately high cholesterol back into the normal range.
Notes: All bee products (and royal jelly in particular) can trigger severe allergic reactions; keep that in mind when trying any "bee stuff" for the first time. One recent report suggests that royal jelly might interact adversely with the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Pharmacotherapy, 2006, vol. 26, no. 4). Until more is understood about this potential interaction, royal jelly shouldn't be taken while using blood thinners.
Oregon-based freelancer Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is the author of User's Guide to Glucosamine and Chondroitin (Basic Health, 2002).