When you want to lose weight, whether that directive has come from a health care professional or from your own motivation to be healthier, one of the first questions tends to be, “Are there weight-loss products out there that can help me?” Losing weight has many facets: you have to alter your diet, emphasize exercise, and generally take good or better care of yourself overall. It can be difficult to overhaul your life all at once, which is why we look for tips, tricks, and life hacks to make it a little bit easier. That brings us to the topic of bee pollen, weight-loss aid and antioxidant extraordinaire, which may be beneficial for your health, well-being, and weight-loss goals.
There is some controversy and concern when it comes to the use of bee pollen weight-loss supplements, so let’s clear that up before we move any further on the topic.
In 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled a bee pollen supplement known as Classic Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen Capsules. This is because the capsules contained not just bee pollen, but an illegal weight-loss drug called sibutramine, which FDA labs found increased blood pressure and heart rate in patients and posed a dangerous risk for anyone with heart conditions or risk factors like heart failure, heart arrhythmias, a history of coronary artery disease, or stroke. It could also interfere with medications, and as a potentially life-threatening substance, it was banned.
The substance that put people at risk in this bee pollen supplement was not bee pollen, but a dangerous additive. Bee pollen (not to be confused with honeycombs or royal jelly) on its own is recognized as a medicine by the German Federal Board of Health.
Bee pollen comes from the tiny balls of pollen made by honey bees as they land on flowers. These small pellets contain not only pollen but also bee saliva, nectar, and honey. Bees ferment this substance to feed the rest of the hive’s colony, but it can be collected by beekeepers who put a comb at the entrance of the hive to collect a portion of all the pollen the bees bring back. This pollen is then used by human beings for certain health benefits.
In its natural form, bee pollen comes as small, crunchy little pellets called bee pollen granules that contain over 250 active natural substances, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fatty acids, lipids, carbs, protein, and antioxidants. The breakdown consists of:
These amounts do change from season to season as the pollen is collected, since springtime plants contain a different amino acid profile from summertime plants. Different plant pollen sources produce unique amounts of various substances too; for example, pine plants provide around 7% protein, while the pollen from date palms contains more like 35% protein.
The recommended dose for adults is 3 to 5 tablespoons per day (20 to 40 grams). Bee pollen for children should be limited to 1-2 tablespoons (about 15 grams). Bee pollen can be easily added to foods like yogurts and smoothies, or consumed in capsule or powder forms.
Proponents of bee pollen claim that it is a superfood that can help alleviate inflammation, support liver functioning, strengthen the immune system and more, including working as a dietary aid for weight loss. Here are the scientific findings behind each claim, including reports that it can also speed up wound healing and provide menopausal relief. Keep in mind that most of these studies have been on animal models, so as of yet there is not a scientific consensus on all the human uses for bee pollen. We provide the information currently available so you can evaluate the evidence yourself and make your own informed decision.
The anti-inflammatory effect of bee pollen has been shown to reduce swelling and unnecessary inflammation. Evidence shows that bee pollen may work much like anti-inflammatory drugs such as indomethacin, phenylbutazone, and naproxen, as shown in this 2010 animal study, which demonstrated that bee pollen extract reduced the swelling of rats’ paws by up to 75%.
This may be due to bee pollen’s quercetin content. Quercetin is an antioxidant known to lower production of inflammatory acids like arachidonic acid. Bee pollen may inhibit the biological processes that promote inflammatory hormone production as well.
Speaking of the power of antioxidants, bee pollen is full of carotenoids, flavonoids, and other various antioxidants that have the ability to protect your cells from free radical damage, which in turn helps prevent the development and worsening of chronic diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes and multiple strains of cancer. This is an area where human studies exist on specific antioxidants, which have been shown to inhibit tumor growth, fight infections and bacterial invasions, and reduce harmful inflammation.
Bee pollen is known by scientists to be antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer immunostimulating, and hepatoprotective. While the strength of these powers varies depending on the plant sources involved in bee pollen production and the season in which the pollen is collected, they all have positive impacts on human health.
Evidence of the hepatoprotective (liver-protecting abilities) of bee pollen include improved detox performance in older animals and better defenses against liver damage from drug overdoses. Likewise, there is evidence showing bee pollen helps promote liver healing, making it a triple hitter when it comes to liver health enhancement.
While more human studies are needed in this area, it’s still true that any aid in health and performance of the liver contributes to one’s overall well-being and strength.
Bee pollen’s impact on the immune system may help in the area of allergies and bacterial infections. One 2008 study found that bee pollen helps reduce mast cell activations, those being the cells which trigger allergic reactions. Likewise, many laboratory studies have found that bee pollen’s antimicrobial powers can kill off bacteria that cause human harm like staph infections, Salmonella outbreaks, and E. coli infections.
The change that occurs when women cease menstruation can be uncomfortable, with symptoms ranging from hot flashes, night sweats, sleep interruption, and unwelcome shifts in mood. Here is another area that fortunately has human research behind it.
In one 2005 trial, 65% of women taking bee pollen said they had fewer hot flashes, better sleep, less irritability, and less joint pain, along with improved energy. In a more recent study from 2015 on women with breast cancer experiencing menopause, 71% reported an improvement of symptoms while taking bee pollen supplements.
Researchers conducted another study on menopausal women and determined that bee pollen supplements helped improve their cholesterol ratios, increasing the “good” HDL cholesterol levels while lowering their “bad” LDL levels. Improved cholesterol levels is a major factor in cardiovascular disease, and improving those numbers in aging adults could help maintain vitality long after retirement.
Speaking of cardiovascular health, bee products like bee pollen are backed by further animal studies showing their ability to improve cholesterol levels and thus potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death across the world.
Lowered blood cholesterol levels can not only reduce the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular adverse events, but also help improve the eyesight of those who have nearsightedness due to clogged arteries.
Laboratory studies show bee pollen extracts block tumor cell growth and promote cancer cell apoptosis, or programmed cancer cell death. This has been demonstrated in colon, prostate, and leukemia cell lines. Moreover certain bee pollens derived from the plants cistus and white willow may contain extra anti-estrogen components that can help lower the risks for uterine and breast cancer.
Another boon from the strong antioxidant content of bee pollen is its ability to aid the body with wound healing. It’s been shown to treat burn wounds as effectively as silver sulfadiazine (but with way less side effects), and accelerate the healing time when applied as a balm. The antimicrobial abilities of bee pollen may be at play here too, reducing infection rates in vulnerable burns, abrasions, and cuts.
At long last we come to the natural weight-loss component of bee pollen. Studies have shown that this substance may help increase nutrient use in your body, as seen in a study that showed improved iron absorption up to 66%, along with phosphorus and calcium improvements too.
Further animal studies show a potential for bee pollen to improve metabolic rates and new muscle growth, two aspects of health that not only help contribute to safe weight loss, but also to longer and stronger longevity.
Bee pollen is also a low-calorie alternative to high-calorie crunchy fare, like sunflower seeds and almonds. You can top your yogurt with bee pollen and it costs only 40 calories and 4 grams of sugar per 2 teaspoons. The fiber in bee pollen can also help keep you feeling fuller for longer so you can stay within your calorie goals. It’s a healthy option to have on hand while on a specific weight-loss diet, and as part of your everyday nutrition.
Because bee pollen by nature has to do with bees and pollen, those with known or suspected allergies to pollen or to bee stings should avoid these products entirely. The potential for rash, swelling, itching, shortness of breath, and in extreme cases anaphylaxis is not worth the risk.
Some research also suggests bee pollen could interrupt medications for blood thinners, so consult a health care professional if you’re on medications before adding any new supplements to your diet. The same goes for pregnant or nursing women: consult your doctor before adding bee pollen products to your regimen, and trust his or her expert opinion on your health.
The health benefits of bee pollen go far beyond the potential of bee pollen weight-loss products, but there is evidence that bee pollen can aid weight loss and metabolic functioning. While unfortunately the bulk of the research on bee pollen’s effects are on animal studies or done in artificial laboratory settings, bee pollen is safe enough for most people to try to see what, if any, improvements they can feel for their own health. Not for nothing, the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in bee pollen make it a healthy choice no matter what you’re using it for!