Beelieve It or Not!

The effects of Bee Pollen on Energy and Weight Loss

Kendra Collins

History

Bee pollen has been used as food for centuries. Medical records dating back to 2735 BC draw allusions to the power of this natural product. Even then, people believed in the therapeutic and nutritional benefits of bee pollen. Its use is lauded in several well-known texts and by legendary people. "The Bible, The Talmud, the Torah, the Koran (the Code of Islam), along with the scrolls of the Orient, the writings of ancient Greece and Rome, the legends of the Russian and Slavic people, even the relatively recent Book of Mormon (1830), all praise the industrious honey bee and her highly nutritious and healing products of the beehive." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) Some of the "Fathers of Western Medicine" (Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder, and Pythagoras) trusted the healing qualities of bee pollen; they often prescribed it to their patients. (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html) Pollen obtained from the hive was a delicacy for primitive man, often accompanied by the eggs and larvae of the bees. To this day, Aboriginal tribes are known to feast on bees and place much value on their pollen and honey. "Every age has regarded the bee as benefactor of mankind and accords this little creature almost holy status." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) The use of bee pollen as an energy enhancer was introduced to Americans athletes by Gold Medal Olympic coaches from Europe. Some of these athletes took the coach's advice and now regard bee pollen as "energy in a tablet."(http://www.glen-net.ca/honeyman/pollen.html) This long history of bee pollen may lead one to wonder, exactly what is bee pollen?

Pollen is a very fine powder made in the stamen (male part) of flowers and plants. Male DNA is carried to the female parts of a flower or plant (of the same species as the male) by pollen. The pollen allows for the reproduction of plants. It is the traveling part of the plant, essential for the transport of the DNA, due to the fact that plants are non-mobile. One grain of pollen usually contains three cells and one hundred thousand to five million pollen spores. A single pollen spore is "capable of reproducing an entire species." (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html)

Bees travel from plant to plant collecting pollen. Then they mix it with saliva (containing digestive juices) and nectar from the plant. The process of pollen collection is instinctive to the bees. They are able to determine which pollen granules are nutritious and healthy and very rarely collect unwholesome granules.

Bee pollen "cannot be duplicated in a laboratory." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) It contains all of the 22 elements that compose the human system, and several more. Bee pollen also contains almost all B complex vitamins (Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, folic acid, and carotenoids). Several minerals, trace elements, essential fatty acids, enzymes and amino acids are found in bee pollen. It is composed of 35% protein, 55% carbohydrate, 2% fatty acids, and 3% vitamins and minerals. (http://www.gic.simplenet.com/dr/herb/bee.htm) Bee pollen also contains Rutin (Vitamin P), which strengthens capillaries and blood cell walls. It is not a drug, but a food and it has no known side effects. (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm)

After the benefits of bee pollen were postulated, a method of obtaining the pollen was needed. A device would have to collect only a small amount of the pollen from the bee, leaving enough to feed the colony. Royden Brown invented such an apparatus. He scientifically designed a grid made of wire to collect the pollen from the hind legs of the bee as it entered the hive. The "trap" would only brush off about 60% of the pollen the bee was carrying and drops it through a screen onto a dish for collection. (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm)

Bell et al. (1983) studied two common bee pollens collected for human consumption, Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) and Marri (Eucalyptus calophylla). They performed a series of experiments to determine moisture, ash content, mineral composition, total protein, crude fiber content, and total lipid content. It was determined that moisture depends mainly on the freshness of the collected pollen and that the moisture content was similar in both types. Jarrah and Marri proved to be good sources of protein, have similar ash content, possess very low lipid content, and have high crude fiber content. "Analysis of the mineral composition showed that potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sodium were the elements present in highest concentrations in both pollens." (Bell et al., 1983, p. 2481) Both also contain copper, magnesium, copper, and iron. Another experiment measured the digestibility of Jarrah and Marri in comparison to another type of pollen (casein). Three groups of rats with similar weights were housed in cages with controlled lighting and temperature. Each group of ten rats was fed diets based on the three types of pollen (respectively) for 28 days. Food consumption and weight gains were measured at the end of the experiment. Digestibility was determined by fecal and urine analysis for nitrogen determination using the formula: (N intake - fecal N)  100/N intake. The digestibilties of Jarrah and Marri were found to be much lower than that of casein. It was concluded that Jarrah and Marri are both good food sources considering their high concentrations of protein although are not very useful to humans because of their low digestibilties. (Bell et al., 1983)

Pollen has to be very well protected to ensure its survival during the passage to the female plant parts. Therefore it has two protective layers of covering, one made of exine and one of intine. Pollen is so indestructible that it can survive in this coating for millions of years. For this reason, archeologists often use it to date their sites. This protection ensures the survival of plants although it also causes a problem for those wanting to consume the pollen. Unprocessed pollen is very indigestible to humans. This is due to the fact that the cell wall of pollen contains cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, which are incompatible with the human digestive system. There are four common methods used to make bee pollen more digestible. One method is mechanical disruption, such as milling. This process often proves difficult. A second method is to impose violent changes in temperature on the pollen, although heat sometimes kills the cells and freeze thawing tends to reduce the quality of the pollen. Fermentation or enzymatic degradation is also used but adds chemicals that cause the pollen to breakdown and withers its nutrition. The final process is shear plane technology which usually proves effective although is very expensive. Dr. Kelvin Duncan is the Dean of Science at Canterbury University. He invented a process that fractures the cell wall without harming the pollen. "It is like cracking a hole in an egg shell to get the digestible material inside." (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm) Supposedly, this method enhances the bioavialibility to 90% or higher.

List of Nutrients in bee pollen 
 
Vitamins Minerals Enzymes/ Co-enzymes Proteins/ amino acids Others Others (continued)
Provitamin A Calcium Amylase Isoleucine Nucleic Acids Lecithin
B1 Thiamine Phosphorus Diatase Leucine Flavonoids Xanthopylls
B2 Riboflavin Potassium Saccharase Lysine Phenolic Acids Crocetin
B3 Niacin Sulfur Pectase Methionine Tarpenes Zeaxanthin
B6 Group Sodium Phosphatase Phenylaline Nucleosides Lycopene
Panthothenic Acid Chlorine Catalase Threonine Auxins Hexodecanal
Biotin Magnesium Disphorase Tryptophan Fructose Alpha-amino-

butyric acid

Cyanocobalamin B12 Copper Cozymase Valine Glucose Monoglyce-

rides

Folic Acid Iodine Cytochrome systems Histidine Brassins Triglyce-

rides

Choline Zinc Lactic dehydrogen-ase Arginine Gibberellins Pentosans
Inositol Silicon Succinic dehydrogen-ase Cystine Kinins
 
Vitamin C Molybde-

num

24 oxidoreduct-ases Tyrosine Vernine
 
Vitamin D Boron 21 transferases Alanine Guanine
 
Vitamin E Titanium 33 hydrolases Aspartic Acid Xanthine
 
Vitamin K
 
11 lyases Glutamic Acid Hypoxal-

thine

 
Rutin
 
5 isomerases Hydroxy-

proline

Nuclein
 
 
 
Pepsin Proline Amines
 
 
 
Trysin Serine
 
 

(http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm)

What Claims are being made?

Some say bee pollen is "the finest food source discovered by man." (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm) Others claim it "contains all the vitamins, amino acids, essential minerals, and active antioxidants needed for a full active life." (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm) It is said that when compared to any other food, bee pollen has a higher percentage of nutrients needed for survival. A cancer specialist, Ernesto Contreras, M.D, even comments, "To my knowledge, there is no better and more complete natural nutrient than honey bee pollen." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) As one could accurately deduce, there are a lot of claims being made about the benefits of bee pollen.

One particularly popular claim is that bee pollen has ergogenic effects. An ergogenic substance is anything that can be used to maximize the utilization of energy. In fact, bee pollen is known as "Mother Nature's natural energy booster." (http://www.1001beautysecrets.com/fitness/beepollen/index.html) Supposedly, bee pollen increases stamina, strength, speed, and endurance. It also improves physical reactions, alertness, and resistance before exercise. Bee pollen is said to "produce accelerated rate of recovery, including return to normal heart rate, breathing, and readiness for the next event." (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html) Therefore it would help to improve performances after the initial exertion. This makes it "a favorite among many world class athletes and those interested in sustaining and enhancing quality performance." (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html) "Many doctors, coaches, athletes, and professional people are finding bee pollen increases zest, energy, stamina, and endurance." (http://www.glen-net.ca/honeyman/pollen.html)

Another claim is that bee pollen can aid in weight loss. According to Carson Wade, "Bee pollen is a natural way to improve metabolism and help control and take weight off." (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm) It is said that bee pollen improves metabolism by correcting a chemical imbalance and by "supplying the missing factors other foods cannot supply." (http://www.glen-net.ca/honeyman/pollen.html) Bee pollen supposedly speeds the process of converting sugar into energy providing oxygen that fat can use to speed their conversion into energy. (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm) "130mg of bee pollen helps digest 3 pounds of food." (http://www.glen-net.ca/honeyman/pollen.html) Lecithin is another component of bee pollen that supposedly speeds the rate at which calories are burned. It also "aids in the digestive process and assimilation of nutrients." (http://www.gic.simplenet.com/dr/herb/bee.htm) Bee pollen also has diuretic qualities and is said to reduce cravings and hunger. "For weight reduction, take pollen 30 minutes before meals with a glass of water." (http://www.glen-net.ca/honeyman/pollen.html) These claims are almost entirely being made by companies trying to sell this product (bee pollen). They are presenting this information with the sole purpose of making money.

Evidence or Hype?

The evidence for the relationship between bee pollen consumption and weight loss and increased energy is not quite equivalent to the claims for such a relationship. Nevertheless, there is a small amount of evidence in the form of scientific research. There are also many testimonials, which cannot be treated as evidence. For example, a 28-year-old woman who was 67 pounds overweight and easily fatigued began to use bee pollen. After about four months, she started to lose a couple pounds a week and felt energized, was able to exercise for longer periods of time, and noticed positive personality alterations. (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm)

Clinical tests have proven that bee pollen is digested quickly and enters the bloodstream quickly as well. Two hours after the bee pollen was taken orally it was found in the blood, urine, and cerebral and spinal fluids. (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html) Another experiment performed on mice showed that they can survive and reproduce viable offspring (without distress) on a diet of bee pollen alone. (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) "European studies have proven that one can live on nothing more than water and bee pollen. It contains every substance required to sustain life, plus a few the bees add themselves." (http://www.wic.net/waltzark/beepollen.htm) According to Dr. Betty Lee Morales, "Bee pollen is the only food which contains every essential nutrient needed by mankind for perfect health. This fact can hardly be disputed, since it has been proved by  analysis in the laboratories of the world many times." (http://beepollennu.hypermart.net/Bee%20Pollen.htm)

There is some information relating to ergogenics and nutritional value but a very limited amount of "evidence" for the claim of effects on weight loss. In fact, the small amount of information found was largely lacking detail and written in a tone of advertisement. "A study reported by Aerospace Medicine and Life Sciences proved that the average daily consumption of food falls by 15-20% when bee pollen is a regular item on the menu." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) As it relates to ergogenics, a former Russian Olympic Coach (Remi Korchemny) performed a 2-year study to confirm that "bee pollen does improve crucial recovery power of athletes after stressed performances." (http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Arthritis/bee_pollen.htm) Another study showed that performance declines on subsequent attempts when bee pollen is not used, although does not decline when it is used. (http://www.apitherapy.org/AAS/pollen.html)

Xie, Wan, and Li (1994) performed an experiment testing the effect of bee pollen of maternal nutrition and fetal growth. The question in this experiment was whether bee pollen would prove an effective nutrient for a developing fetus. In this experiment the bee pollen used was of Brassia campestres L. A group of pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats was obtained and divided into three parts. The first group was fed a normal diet and the other two groups were fed a normal diet plus bee pollen. The pollen-fed dams (mother rates) had a greater body weight and higher levels of total protein. The fetuses of the dams that were fed the pollen had greater body weight and lower death rate than the fetuses of the dams that were fed a normal diet. The fetuses were then checked for any type of malformations. "These results suggested that bee pollen could improve maternal nutrition without affecting normal fetus development. It is a practical and effective nutrient during pregnancy." (Xie, Wan, & Li, 1994, abstract) This information should invalidate the claims that bee pollen has positive effects on weight loss. In fact, it has been proven to cause weight gain.

Ergogenic increased utilization of energy includes the control, efficiency, and production of energy. Williams (1992) raised the question of the effectiveness of nutritional ergogenics as they relate to aerobic endurance performance. One such nutritional aid tested was Vitamin E, a component of bee pollen. According to Williams, detailed research was performed to test the theory that Vitamin E "enhances aerobic endurance by reducing the peroxidation of red blood cell membranes (1992, S346)." His review of this research lead him to the conclusion that this vitamin did not enhance endurance at sea level, but did show an increase in VO2max or oxidative metabolism with Vitamin E at altitude. Another nutritional aid reviewed by Williams (1992) was phosphate (also a component of bee pollen). Although four studies were noted to find no ergogenic properties of phosphate, contrary information was also found. As Williams states (1992, S346), "four other studies reported significant increases in VO2max, decreases in lactic acid during sub maximal exercise, increase in cycling and running endurance time, and a faster time in a 40-km bike race under laboratory conditions." One may falsely assume from the results found in these studies that bee pollen would have similar effects due to the fact that it contains both Vitamin E and phosphate. In addition to Williams' (1992) review of these experiments, he also found information on bee pollen itself as a nutritional aid. According to Williams (1992), although bee pollen contains various vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, it has not been proven to have ergogenic effects. Six experiments (including one performed in Williams' laboratory "reported no beneficial effects on physiological responses to exercise, such as VO2max, as well as other measures of endurance capacity. Williams (1992) concluded that Vitamin E at altitude and phosphate have some ergogenic effects and seem to be safe when taken in correct dosages. Furthermore, he found that although bee pollen contains Vitamin E and phosphate, no ergogenic effects were found with its use and it may produce dangerous allergic responses.

Steben and Boudreaux (1978) preformed an experiment assessing the effects of bee pollen and protein supplements on athletic performance. "The purpose of this study was to validate and further investigate the question of whether normal training over a period of time rather than food supplements was primarily responsible for improved performance of endurance athletes who ingest normal diets." (Steben & Boudreaux, 1978, p. 222) Eighteen male cross-country runners from Louisiana voluntarily participated in this experiment. They were randomly divided into three groups. The first group ingested bee pollen, the second ingested protein extracts, and the third group was given a placebo. The average velocity for a three-mile run on the same marked cross-country course was measured at the beginning and end of a twelve-week time interval. The results of these performance tests are recorded in the table. Steben and Boudreaux concluded that both the pollen and protein extracts had no significant effect on the performance of the athletes.

Pre and Post Performance Results


Diet
Pre-post Measure
Mean velocity (V) yds/sec
Pollen Pre
4.700
 
Post
5.067
Placebo Pre
4.650
 
Post
4.917
Protein  Pre
4.767
 
Post
5.133

(Steben & Boudreaux 1978)

In Conclusion

Hypothetically, bee pollen is an excellent source of nutrition. With its abundance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes, it is hard not to believe the many claims made about the positive effects of bee pollen. Although a very limited amount of recent information can be found proving positive nutritional effects, in reality, studies have consistently proven that bee pollen has no ergogenic effects. Furthermore, no legitimate information can be found proving positive effects on weight loss. In fact, one study (Xie, Wan & Li, 1994) shows that pollen can actually induce weight gain. One must take into consideration the fact that pollen is very indigestible to humans and also that fact that some of the studies on bee pollen were performed several years ago. This could mean that some more recent methods for improving the bioavialibility of bee pollen have been invented and nutritional benefits can be more effectively obtained today. This is not to say that the pollen may have a positive effect on weight loss, as there is no real evidence to support that claim. It also does not necessarily lead to proof of ergogenic effects. Although what the above consideration may mean is that pollen has nutritional benefits that can be harvested. Hopefully, this paper will refute the abundance of false claims on the benefits of bee pollen. One must remember that you can't believe everything you read these days.

Bibliography

Bell et al. (1983). Composition and Protein Quality of Honeybee-Collected Pollen of Eucalyptus marginata and Eucalyptus calophylla. Journal of Nutrition, 113, (2479-84).

Steben, Ralph E. & Boudreaux, Pete. (1978). The effects of pollen and protein extracts on selected blood factors and performance of athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine, 18, (221-226).

Williams, Melvin H. (1992). Ergogenic and ergolytic substances. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 24(Suppl. 9), S344-S348.

Xie Y, Wan B, Li W. (1994). Effects of bee pollen on maternal nutrition and fetal growth. Hua Hsi I Ko Ta Hsueh Hsueh Pao, 4, (434-437).
 
 

 

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