Bee pollen provides nutritional food for bees. It is a natural mixture of bee secretions, honey, enzymes, wax, and flower pollen. Bee pollen may have some benefits for humans, but collecting it may adversely affect the health of the bees and even destroy the colony.

Many people regard bee pollen as a superfood because of its many nutrients; others see it as a natural therapeutic product that has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. Consuming bee pollen may not suit people with allergies to flower pollen or bee stings.

However, despite its potential benefits to humans, harvesting pollen for an extended period may adversely affect the bees and cause the colony to die out.

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Bees forage and collect pollen from a variety of plants. When the bees return to the beehive with the pollen, it becomes food for the colony in the form of fats, minerals, and proteins. It may also contain other compounds, such as enzymes, bee wax, honey, and nectar.

The type of plants the bees harvest, together with other ingredients, affects the composition of the bee pollen.

As a product for human use, bee pollen appears as small yellowish-orange to dark brown or black granules. The pollen has a sweet, floral taste that varies depending on which plants the bees gathered it from.

How to eat bee pollen

People can use bee pollen in various ways, such as a topping on cereals, yogurt, or salad, or in smoothies or similar drinks. It is also available as a supplement.

However, take care when using pollen products may cause allergic symptoms, including shortness of breath or anaphylaxis.

Learn more about anaphylaxis here.

Bee pollen is a complex food. There are about 200 active substances in pollen, including:

Pollen also contains the following important nutritional compounds:

CompoundPercentage
Protein7–40%, including essential amino acids
Carbohydrates24–60%
Fats1–18%, including essential fatty acids
Flavonoids0.2–2.5%
VitaminsA, B1, B2, B6, C, D, E
MineralsCalcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, copper, silicon, selenium, zinc

Some traditional medicinal practitioners use bee products, such as pollen, as a form of medicine. Using bee products to benefit health is known as apitherapy.

Bee pollen contains many active compounds that may have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Antioxidant

Bee pollen contains antioxidants, vitamins, and other compounds, and may reduce damage in the cells from free radicals or oxidative stress. It may also protect cells from damage due to UV light from the sun.

However, levels of antioxidants in bee pollen can vary widely based on the plant types and growing conditions in the area where bees collected the pollen.

Learn more about antioxidants here.

Antimicrobial

A 2011 study into the antimicrobial, antioxidant, and proteasome proteins of Greek pollen, indicated that high levels of the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol in bee pollen may be responsible for its antimicrobial activity.

Learn about antimicrobial resistance here.

Anti-inflammatory

Research in animal models suggests that bee pollen may have anti-inflammatory properties.

Other animal-based research from 2010 indicated that bee pollen extract reduced inflammation in rats. In another study from the same year, mice with liver disease showed anti-inflammatory effects after consuming bee pollen.

However, researchers need to carry out further studies to confirm whether these results apply in humans.

Learn more about inflammation here.

Some bee products, including bee pollen, may have other health benefits. However, more human-based research is needed to confirm any beneficial effects.

Some of these potential benefits are:

Regulating the immune system

A 2010 research article indicates that compounds in bee pollen may help regulate the immune system by improving individual immune response in the cells or stimulating the immune cells when necessary. Bee pollen compounds, such as flavonoids, volatile oils, and steroids, may reduce the impact of allergies on the immune system.

Learn how the immune system works here.

Promoting wound healing

Bee pollen may help with some forms of wound treatment, such as burns. Animal-based research suggests that an ointment containing bee pollen extract killed microbes on fresh burn wounds and promoted wound closure, speeding up healing and, potentially, preventing secondary issues.

Learn more about honey and wound healing here.

Protecting against heart disease

Bee pollen may reduce the risk of heart disease. Research showed that pollen extracts reduce blood lipids and cholesterol levels and may help protect from heart disease and stroke. In models of heart disease, bee pollen reduces atherosclerosis plaques and helps keep clots from forming.

An animal-based study suggests bee pollen extract may help reduce the formation of fatty acid deposits in the arteries.

However, results from animal-based studies may not necessarily translate to humans, and scientists will need to carry out more research to confirm this.

Learn more about heart disease here.

Fighting against cancer cells

A 2014 review found that some bee products may help fight tumor cells in different models of cancer. However, the study used specific types of bee products, including honey, royal jelly, and propolis.

There is no current evidence that bee pollen has any effect on cancer in humans.

Learn more about cancer here.

Allergies, product contamination, and interaction with medications, such as blood thinners, are all possible concerns with bee products. Anyone considering using bee pollen should talk with their doctor first.

Allergies

People who are allergic to pollen should contact their allergist or doctor before using any pollen products. A person with an allergy to bees or bee stings should also avoid pollen products.

Contamination

Bee pollen is a natural product, and there is the possibility of contamination during collection by the insects, such as mold from decomposing plants. This substance could potentially contaminate a batch of bee pollen. Improper storage could cause bee pollen to break down.

Medications

Bee pollen and its compounds may interact with some medications. A person should seek medical advice before adding bee pollen to their diet.

Pregnancy

A person who is pregnant or breastfeeding may want to avoid bee products or talk to their doctor before using them.

Bees use pollen as brood food, to feed the queen, and for the speedy development of newly emerged worker bees.

Pollen is essential to bees. Research indicates that if there is not enough pollen in the hive due to long-term harvesting by humans, the colony may not survive. However, pollen trapping in the short term, which experts define 3–4 weeks, may not have any adverse consequences.

Harvesting

When bees enter a hive, they deposit small amounts of pollen on the outside of the hive, which people can collect or harvested by hand. People can also use pollen traps to harvest bee pollen.

Pollen traps

Often used by commercial beekeepers, pollen traps are devices placed underneath or at the front of the entrance to the hive. They are typically either plastic or a metal mesh. Bees returning to the hive have to walk through the mesh trap to enter the hive and, as they do so, the mesh scrapes some of the pollen off their legs into a collection tray.

In one study, researchers used a pollen trap placed at the entrances to beehives populated by several types of bees, including the honeybee Apis mellifera. The study concluded that the bees produced less pollen in the hives that had pollen traps.

Does harvesting pollen harm bees?

When harvesters or manufacturers use pollen traps for an extended period, a number of adverse effects can occur, including:

  • disease levels
  • wax production
  • honey production
  • adult population
  • brood rearing
  • colony survival

However, researchers suggest that there may be other, more sustainable ways to collect bee pollen, such as improved trap design.

Anyone who is uncertain if they can use bee pollen should consult with their doctor before consuming the product. Similarly, people who plan to take bee pollen regularly should check with their doctor about possible interactions with medications.

If a person has symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, swelling in the face, or a skin rash, after using pollen, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Bee pollen is a complex food with potential health benefits. However, more human-based studies are needed to provide evidence of bee pollen benefits. Supplements, such as bee pollen, cannot replace a balanced diet.