If you have ever happened to watch Korean- or Chinese-language television, chances are you have seen dozens of commercials for a bee product not all that well known outside of Asia called royal jelly. Nurse worker bees make royal jelly from pollen and honey and secrete it from special glands on their heads make.
The nurse bees use this product as the food that bees make to feed newly hatched larvae for the first three days of their lives to make sure they get a healthy start in the world. If a female larva continues to be fed royal jelly for more than three days it is transformed into a sexually mature reproductive powerhouse, living for up to seven years, and laying more than its entire body weight in eggs each and every days. Queen bees continue to be fed royal jelly their entire lives. And this relatively rare product of the busy bee has held a regal position in Asian medicine for at least two thousand years.
In the understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), royal jelly is a tonic for “spleen chi,” a metaphorical way of describing the various kinds of processes that “ground” someone in day to day life. In the energy body, TCM believed, the “spleen” controlled the circulatory system, making sure blood traveled to all the bodies where it was needed. It “dominated” the four limbs, a healthy spleen enabling normal motion. And the energy-spleen “manifested” itself in the lips, keeping lips plump, preventing chapping and chafing, and powering the sense of taste. When the spleen is healthy, food tastes good.
These concepts are sufficiently well-known in China and Japan that royal jelly is a consumer product in high demand. But royal jelly can also be understood in scientific terms. It is a source of complete amino acids, although users typically don’t consume more than 1 or 2 grams per day, so it isn’t exactly a protein supplement.
Royal jelly also contains collagen and sugars that the body can use, but, again, you just don’t use enough royal jelly to make a difference for your nutrient needs. Where royal jelly supports good health is in its content of:
- Gamma globulins – These are infection-fighting compounds that help bees avoid the effects of bacteria, viruses, and parasites in close quarters. Some of the gamma globulins also fight infection in people.
- Enzymes – Royal jelly contains antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase, peroxidase, and gluthathione peroxidase. If you take royal jelly in capsule form, these enzymes survive the trip through your stomach’s acids and can be absorbed into your bloodstream once the capsule reaches your lower digestive tract.
- Apisin – This complex carbohydrate has a molecular shape that fits like a key into a “lock,” a molecular receptor site, on the white blood cells known as regulatory T cells. These are the white blood cells that keep the other white blood cells from multiplying out of control and destroying healthy tissue as well as infection-causing microbes.
- Royalin – Not really “antibiotic,” this antibacterial compound has the ability to break down the protective wall that gram-positive bacteria such as Clostridium (botulism), Listeria, and Staphylococcus, all of which can be hard to treat with regular antibiotics. Royal jelly also contains a compound called jeilein, which fights gram-negative bacteria (bacteria that don’t have a protective outer wall) such as E. coli.
Scientifically supervised clinical trials have confirmed that applying royal jelly to human skin can kill staph infections (the kind of boil that usually has a pus-filled yellow peak in the center) and reduce vulnerability to the flu. Laboratory studies in Japan employing animals, not people, have found that it can lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol, and lower blood pressure– but if your objective is lowering your cholesterol, there are other natural products that work, such as red yeast rice, that are a lot less expensive. The most cost-effective use of royal jelly capsules is preventing colds and flu and fighting infections that don’t respond to what the doctor gives you. (Always take the entire course of any antibiotic your doctor prescribes to prevent creating a super-bacterium that is resistant to available treatments.) But where royal jelly can’t be beat is for stimulating the production of collagen in the skin.
Royal jelly contains collagen, but it is more important for stimulating human skin to produce its own collagen. The skin-stimulating component in royal jelly is a compound known as trans-10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid, or 10-HDA. Royal jelly contains from 2 to 6% 10-HDA. Quality royal jelly products list HDA as one of its standardized ingredients, which the manufacturer makes sure is in the skin cream.
What this royal jelly compound does is to activate a protein with the equally bewildering name transient receptor potential cation channel, subfamily A, member 1, or TRPA1 for short.
This protein makes the skin sensitive to minerals and electrolytes. It literally charges the skin so skin cells can respond to nutrients, oxygen, hormones, and skin-active ingredients in skin care products. It stops itching. It stops redness. It makes the skin less sensitive to sunlight—and if you happen to have skin with naturally golden skin tones, it greatly reduces the risk of eventually developing sun spots and age spots. That’s why royal jelly is so popular in China, Korea, and Japan.
Even if you don’t have Asian skin, however, royal jelly skin care products are great for protecting the skin against aging caused by excessive exposure to the sun. Whether taken inside or gently applied to the skin outside, royal jelly can help you fight infection and look younger, not too expensively and without any common adverse side effects.