Bee Product Supplements

Bee products commonly used as dietary supplements are bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. They are all included in one review because they contain many overlapping constituents and claims and are often used in formulalioris together, making them difficult to narrowly define in terms or" content.

Bee pollen is difficult to characterize specifically because products sold as "bee pollen" are made up of a variable content of vitamins, minerals, acids, carbohydrates, and trace minerals. The plants the pollen was harvested from and under what conditions also vary. Typical claims for bee pollen include use as an energizer and for athletic endurance, although clinical studies are lacking to confirm these claims.

Royal jelly is the food the worker bees bring to fortify the queen bee, and it is fed to bee larvae in their first few days of life. It is a secretion that comes from the head of the worker bee and contains flower nectar, sugars, and proteins. As an overall tonic and energizer, royal jelly is generally used for people who need something to make them thrive and feel younger.

Propolis, sometimes called "nature's penicillin," is a complex mixture of mostly pollen and waxes that bees collect from plants and then use to sterilize, cement, and varnish the hives. It is rich in amino acids, trace minerals, flavonoids, and vitamin K. Although in preclinical studies propolis has been confirmed to be effective as an antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, clinical studies are needed to confirm these roles and determine the therapeutic dosages and conditions for which it is best suited.

Overall, some evidence exists to support the claims of these bee products, but much more clinical work is needed, and certainly an effort to define and characterize products would help our understanding. Considering the other natural alternatives with more clinical substantiation that exist for many of the claims of propolis, it may be best to limit the use of propolis until further clinical work is performed. The most exciting and promising uses seem to be as an alternative antibiotic and to treat inflammation, especially considering the negative issues that exist for drugs on the market in those categories and the apparent lack of serious negative side effects with bee products (in nonallergic persons).

PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, a preparation (Femal) composed of bee pollen extract, pollen and pistil extract, and royal jelly was tested in women with PMS. During 2 months of treatment, the efficacy of the Femal preparation was tested with well-established questionnaires and daily measurements of body weight. Overall symptom scores were reduced significantly in the treatment group, and the authors noted evidence of a slow onset of benefits to treatment. PMS-related weight iMin was reduced by 50% by treatment compared with placebo. No adverse effects were reported in the study (Windier and Christer, 2002).

ATHEROSCLEROSIS. A statistical review on the published human and ciinical studies involving royal jelly estimated that the use of 50-100 mg royal jelly daily could reduce total serum cholesterol levels by 1.4% and total serum Jipids by about 10%.

MALNUTRITION. In an uncontrolled clinical trial, royal jelly {Royal Peking Jelly, 800 mg dai ly) was given to patients with malnutrition secondary to various diseases. Through clinical and biochemical evaluation, promising results were found with respect to body weight, gut proteins, plasma aldoslerone concentration, and nitrogen balance (Foppiani, 1984).

HERPES. Three groups of 30 people with herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 2 participated in a study comparing propolis to acyclovir and placebo in a randomized, masked-investigator, controlled, multicenter clinical study. Treatment began in the blister phase (ointment was applied 4 times daily topically to blisters, or inserted on tampons if the blisters were vaginal or on the cervix), and the participants were examined at days 3, 7, and 10 of treatment The clinical symptoms and the number and size of blisters were recorded. The healing process was found to be faster in the propolis group, with the number of patients healed on day 10 being 24, 14, and 12, and the number of patients healed on day 7 being 10, 4, and 3 out of 30 in the propolis, acyclovir, and placebo groups, respectively. In addition, among the women with vaginal infections of microbial pathogens, propolis was found to normalize vaginal flora in 55% of the women, while the acyclovir and placebo groups had no effect. Propolis was also found lo be more effective at reducing local symptoms (Vynograd et al., 2000).

IMMUNE STIMULATION. The immune-stimulating effect of a prophylactic propolis treatment was studied in an open prospective clinical study. Propolis XNP was given (500 mg in the morning for 13 days), and cytokine secretion capacity was studied during and after treatment. The cytokine secretion capacity (but not the cytokine plasma levels) increased significantly during the treatment period in a time-dependent manner. The authors concluded that propolis was able to elicit an enhanced immune reactivity without side effects (Bratter et al., 1999).

INFLAMMATORY RESPIRATORY DISEASE, An aqueous propolis extract (Nivcrisol) was studied for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases of the upper airways in preschool and school children during the cold season of 1994-1995. Beneficial results found for the propolis extract include decreased numbers of acute and chronic symptoms and a decrease or suppression of the viral-microbial flora in the upper airways. The authors concluded that the propolis extract preparation was a good adjuvant medication for the treatment of some forms of acute or chronic rhinopharyngeal diseases, because they found good clinical results and the preparation was well tolerated and economical.

PERIODONTOPATH1ES. Propolis has been found beneficial in the treatment of gingivitis and oral ulcers in several small case studies and pilot clinical studies (Coranov et al., 1979; Magro-Filho and de Carvalho, 1994; Martinez Silveira et al., 1988; Mitroi et al., 1987; Neumann et al., 1986; Schmidt et al., 1980). In addition to their use in treating periodontopathies, preparations with propolis have been found to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and highly antimycotic (against Candida albicans] and to have antiscar effects (Gafar et al., 1989; Kosenko and Kosovich, 1990; Vitoria el al., 1999).

GIARDIASIS. In a study of propolis extract ("bee glue" or Propolisina) for the treatment of giardiasis, 138 people were divided into two groups and given either propolis or an imidazole derivative (tinldazole), The propolis extract treatment resulted in a 52% cure in children using a 10% concentrated extract and a comparable efficacy in adults with a 20% concentrated extract. In adults who undertook treatment with a 30% concentrated extract, there was higher efficacy than tinidazolc (60% versus 40%, respectively). The authors concluded it to be a good treatment that is economical, which is important for people in developing countries.

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