The Benefits of Bee Pollen
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As with many so-called superfoods, you can find numerous reasons to sprinkle some bee pollen on top of your smoothie bowl if you spend enough time on Google. While it certainly has a holistic appeal of being an easy way to get in some special nutrients, the available scientific evidence sparks some questions about all popular claims of bee pollen benefits.
What Is Bee Pollen?
Bees collect pollen from plants, mix it with nectar and their secretions, and carry that back to the hive. This results in bee pollen… but don’t get confused; this isn’t the same thing as honey, bee venom, or royal jelly.
“Bee pollen is its own thing, and there is a lot of variation to it,” explains Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition manager for Openfit. “Depending on the plants the pollen came from, the composition of the bee pollen will be different.”
Bee Pollen Nutrition Overview
When it comes to macronutrients, one tablespoon of bee pollen can contain about 7 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and minimal to zero grams of fat. Additionally, it can also contain 4 grams of sugar and 1 gram of fiber. However, these number will vary based on where the bee pollen comes from.
It’s also a source of vitamins and minerals. But these are likely trace amounts, as the USDA Nutrient Database and many supplement labels do not list any vitamins and minerals per tablespoon. “Bee pollen has some nutrients… but you can get those from other foods and don’t have to spend your money on this one thing,” Giancoli says.
What Are the Benefits of Bee Pollen?
Nutrition influencers and enthusiasts might tout a whole list of reasons why you should sprinkle some bee pollen onto your morning toast. And although some studies do suggest a handful of bee pollen health benefits, more research needs to be done to substantiate them — especially randomized clinical trials with humans.
“These findings in animal studies are often extrapolated into being beneficial for humans, and we just don’t know yet,” Giancoli says. “That’s not to say that bee pollen doesn’t do anything, but it’s probably not going to be the magic bullet some may think it is.”
1. Antioxidant Boost
2. Bee Pollen for Allergies
Although pollen is a common trigger for allergies, some people take bee pollen to help with allergies. “It can work like a vaccine,” says Harvard-trained cardiologist and integrative health practitioner Cynthia Thaik, M.D. “You take a small dose of pollen and develop resistance.”
However, this isn’t a tried-and-true bee pollen benefit, based on current science. Rat studies have found that bee pollen may inhibit allergic reactions, but more research is necessary, scientists caution. IMPORTANTLY, if you do have a pollen allergy, check with your doctor before taking bee pollen.
3. Bee Pollen for Heart Health
Bee pollen contains rutin, a flavonoid that may benefit cardiovascular health, Thaik says. Because of this, bee pollen may support healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range. “However, you have to consistently take rutin, and take large doses of it, to see a benefit,” she adds.
There are studies on rats to support this benefit, like this 2018 study, where scientists fed mice a high-fat diet. When they supplemented the diet for some mice with bee pollen, those rodents’ total cholesterol dropped by about 30 percent and their “bad” LDL cholesterol dropped by 67 to 90 percent, depending on how much bee pollen they consumed.
How Do You Commonly Take Bee Pollen?
You can find it in a few forms, like bee pollen pills and bee pollen liquid extract. If you prefer to eat your bee pollen rather than take a supplement, most often people add the crunchy, bittersweet bee pollen granules to smoothies, acai bowls, granola, oatmeal, yogurt, soups, and salad dressings.
It’s important to note, though, that there is no standard bee pollen dosage. “Because there’s not enough research out there, we don’t know what an appropriate dosage would be. We don’t know the right or safe dosage, or what’s too much,” Giancoli says.
Are There Any Risks to Bee Pollen?
Although it seems to be safe overall, bee pollen side effects may occur in some people.
- Even if some people find that it helps with allergy resistance, it can have the opposite effect. Keep in mind that the bees are taking pollen from plants, so if you’re allergic to pollen, a bee pollen supplement might not be for you, Giancoli says. Similarly, if you are allergic to bee stings, you should check with your doctor before consuming bee pollen.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid bee pollen. “There is concern it may stimulate the uterus, which can threaten pregnancy,” Giancoli says.
- Some reports have indicated that bee pollen may increase the effect of blood-thinning medications, so talk to your doctor if you take Warfarin or similar medications.
- As with any supplement, “Do your research,” Giancoli says. “Make sure you buy from a reputable company with proof of good manufacturing practices, and that what they claim to be selling is actually in the bottle.”