Honey is the viscid, sweet fluid that the honeybees (Apis melliflera) produce from flower nectar. Honey has been used as a food and natural medicinal remedy for centuries starting from the Chinese, Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. It is said to possess antibacterial properties and modern research has found that it can help with wound management. While honey is usually heat pasteurized and filtered to get the liquid form that we know, raw honey is unfiltered and unheated. Hence, it can contain sediment like honeycomb pieces, propolis, bee pollen, broken bee wings etc. The concentration of this foreign matter could be more than liquid honey.
What is Bee pollen?
Bee pollen is also got from Apis melliflera (honeybees). As the honeybees gather nectar, the pollen in the flowers gets stuck to their hairy legs. This plant pollen is then transported back to the hives by the bees. In the bee hive, beekeepers set traps at the bottom to catch the pollen as it drops off from the legs of the bees. This pollen is then gathered in trays and taken away to make bee pollen after cleaning out debris. Bee pollen is available as capsules, tablets, raw granules and jelly.
Chemical and physical properties of raw honey and bee pollen
Physical properties of honey depend on the flowers from which it is gathered, the quantity of sugars present in it and the temperature. As for the chemical composition of raw honey, it is mostly (82%) made up of carbohydrates. Of the carbohydrates found in honey, 38.2% is monosaccharides fructose and 31% glucose. The rest is made up of other carbohydrates like disaccharides, maltose, sucrose, etc. Honey has invertase and other enzymes present in it. Invertase is used to convert sucrose to fructose and glucose. Other enzymes present in honey are amylase, catalase and acid phosphorylase. It contains 18 free amino acids. The most abundant amino acid present in honey is proline.
Honey has trace amounts of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, B6, pantothenic acid and folic acid. It also contains vitamin C, calcium, zinc, iron, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, chromium, selenium and manganese.
Antioxidants like flavonoids are present in honey. It is said that darker honey contains greater anti-oxidizing properties. Apart from these, honey also contains compounds like gluconic, butanoic, citric, lactic, formic, succinic, malic, acetic and pyroglutamic acids.
Bee pollen contains 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 1-2% fat, trace vitamins and 3% minerals. The chemical components vary depending on the geographic region, plant source, season and harvesting method similar to raw honey. It can contain around 100 vitamins, enzymes, minerals and amino acids.
Among the vitamins, bee pollen contains all the B vitamins except B-12, vitamins C, D, E, F, and K, folic acid and choline. Some of the minerals found in bee pollen include iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, sodium, zinc, chlorine, sulfur, selenium, titanium, boron and silica. There are around 22 amino acids, 25 minerals, 18 vitamins, 11 co-enzymes and enzymes, 11 carbohydrates, 25% protein, 14 fatty acids and 59 trace elements present in bee pollen.
Benefits of raw honey and bee pollen
Raw honey that is unfiltered and not pasteurized is said to provide a treasure trove of nutritional benefits and contains many medicinal properties. The following are some of the benefits that raw honey is said to possess
- Increases calcium absorption
- Increases hemoglobin count and therefore can prevent anemia that results from nutritional deficiency
- Can help those with arthritis
- Can be used to treat respiratory infections like asthma and chronic bronchitis
- Help in the treatment of gastric ulcers
- Supplies instant energy without the surge of insulin that white sugar causes
- Said to help with seasonal allergies like hay fever and sinusitis
- Can prevent insomnia if taken at night before sleeping
- It can act as a drawing agent for stings and bites or infected wounds
- Proved effective in the treatment of gangrene, stomach ulcerations, surgical incisions and surgical wound infections
- Protects corneas, skin grafts, bones and blood vessels when they are stored and shipped
- Natural antibiotics present in raw honey is said to kill microbes
- Effective in fighting parasites and bacteria
- Helps with tissue healing
The benefits of bee pollen can be enjoyed as raw granules added to foods, capsules, liquids or tablets. Bee pollen is said to provide many benefits although most of these are not substantiated by sufficient research. These benefits include:
- Improved energy levels
- Reduce fatigue levels
- Improved athletic performance by recovering quickly after a strenuous workout, improves stamina and endurance levels
- May help in cure or relieve cerebral hemorrhage, body weakness, enteritis, brain damage, anemia, indigestion and constipation
- Bee pollen could be used to treat prostatism
- It could relieve symptoms of radiation therapy in cancer patients
- It could be used as a supplement to help in weight loss
- It can be an effective prenatal vitamin
- It can be used to relieve allergies like allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Said to improve alertness and mental clarity
- Strengthens the immune system
- Acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-microbial agent
- Helps the immune system fight off diseases and infections
- Acts as an anti-oxidant
- Helps fight common infections like flu, colds and bronchitis
- Skin creams that contain bee pollen can make the skin look younger, healthier and smoother by reducing wrinkles and lines
- There are claims that bee pollen has anti-carcinogenic properties
- Bee pollen could benefit those with gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, enteritis, constipation and colitis
It can be used as a general tonic, helps with symptoms of alcohol intoxication and improves urine flow
- Bee pollen is used for premenstrual syndrome, premature aging, rheumatism, prostate conditions, painful urination and mouth sores
- Those with bleeding problems like vomiting blood, nose bleed, bloody diarrhea, menstrual problems and coughing blood could benefit from bee pollen
Side effects of raw honey and bee pollen
Both bee pollen and raw honey are responsible for various allergic reactions. Honey is generally safe although there are cases of nausea, cough, and occupational asthma, dry and itchy lips, swelling below the skin, abnormal voice, difficulty swallowing and difficulty breathing. Different people react differently to the components in raw honey like glandular secretions of the bees, pollen and body parts of bees. Some people who demonstrate food or flower allergies can display side effects depending on the flowers from which raw honey has been collected. For example, honey from the nectar of flowers like Rhododendron can cause symptoms like sweating, weakness, low heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting etc. Using honey to treat open wounds may also cause drying and delay healing. Infants given honey could be at risk of infant botulism – a type of bacterial illness. Since raw honey could contain contaminants, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid these products.
Bee pollen also causes allergies in those susceptible to them. Hence, those with seasonal allergies, allergies to plant pollen, allergies to foods like celery, carrots and apples must avoid bee pollen. Patients who consume bee pollen for long periods (> 3 weeks) could experience gastrointestinal problems, chronic allergies like neurologic and hypereosinophilia. Bee pollen can cause allergic reactions like swelling, itching, dizziness and liver damage. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid bee pollen products since it could contain contaminants and in some cases stimulate the uterus, thereby threatening a pregnancy.
Both bee pollen and raw honey should be stopped at once when people experience allergic reactions like shortness of breath, itching or swelling. Failure to do so could cause anaphylaxis. Both products provide numerous benefits. Always check with your doctor before including these or other supplements in your diet.