Bee Pollen – The Crock of Gold

Bee HiveThe honeybee is the world's most popular insect. Colonies of bees are found all over the world except in Antarctica, and much of the world's wildlife could not exist without them.

Bees provide some of the world's most popular foods. There is no better source of natural sugar than honey. There are few more versatile antioxidants than propolis, and there is no better balanced source of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals than royal jelly. But there is one bee product that can work minor medical miracles that most of us have never considered.  It's bee pollen.

What Is Bee Pollen?

Most people react to the subject of bee pollen with a comment on the lines of “What? I thought pollen was made by flowers, not by bees.” And most people are absolutely right.

Bee pollen is not pollen that is made by bees, but instead, it is pollen that is collected by bees on their feet as they buzz around and inside the wells of flowers that provide the nectar they collect for making honey.

Contrary to what some people believe, it is also not an animal product, it is a plant product that is made by the plant during the normal reproductive cycle.  The pollen is simply the male “egg” that fertilizes the female's egg (though unlike most humans plants usually contain both male and female reproductive parts). Unlike honey, royal jelly, or propolis, bee pollen is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It is also low in sugar so that it is acceptable for diabetics and dieters and anyone who has to deal with high and low blood sugar levels.

Collecting the pollen from the hives does not deprive either plants or bees of the food they need. It only takes one grain of pollen to create a seed. Because most plants propagate themselves far and wide, they make tens of thousands or even tens of millions of grains of pollen for each future seed. Busy bees collect 20,000 to 50,000 grains of pollen every day, mixing them with tiny amounts of honey to keep them together.

Pollen provides the male element the plant uses to create a seed. When pollen lands on the pistil of the flower, it grows a tube down through the pistil and generates two sperm that travel down the tube and have the potential to fertilize the egg. Until the pollen reaches the flower it will pollinate, it has to contain all the nutrients needed not just to keep the pollen grain alive but also to protect it from sun, heat, cold, and infection. The need to pack nutrition into such a tiny package is what makes it such a great food.

Pollen Comes from Picky Plants

Picky plants choose bees for pollination. These entomophilous (insect-loving) plants make very tiny grains of pollen that can't survive travelling in the wind. Each particle of pollen from a bee-loving plant has to be packed with all the nutrients needed for its survival and almost nothing else, so it will be small enough to stick to the legs of the honeybee that carries it to the next flower. And because bees choose plants on the basis of their nectar, the plants bees pollinate always have parents that are especially attractive to the next generation of bees who keep the species going.

Pollen is almost too small to be seen by the naked eye. The “grains” of pollen we can see in honey and in bee pollen products are actually “balls” of pollen that bees collect in tiny sacs on their legs. Since bees collect far more pollen than the hive can consume, beekeepers have devised tiny traps that capture some (but not all) of the balls of pollen bees deposit as they “wipe their feet” before going into the hive.

But What's in Pollen for People?

Fine and good, you might say, but why would I care about bees and pollen? The simple fact is that, like everything else in the beehive, pollen is a treasure trove of nutrients.

From 12 to 45% of the weight of the pollen is protein. This protein contains all the amino acids needed for plant nutrition, which happen to correspond to all the amino acids needed for human nutrition.

Nutritionists usually describe the amino acids the human body needs in terms of “essential” and “non-essential.” The essential amino acids are compounds that the human body cannot make. They have to come from food. The non-essential amino acids are compounds that the human body can make from essential amino acids.

The non-essential amino acids don't necessarily have to come from food, but the body can only use amino acids to make proteins in an exact sequence. If there is a shortage of any single amino acid, the body may break down muscle tissue and immune cells to get that amino acid to make the proteins it immediately requires. Sometimes a tiny deficit in complete protein nutrition results in the destruction of healthy tissue to make the carrier proteins and hormones the body urgently requires. And just a tiny amount of complete protein can prevent tissue destruction.

Nobody needs to wolf down bee pollen the way some people feel the need to wolf down beefsteaks or protein powders. A little bit of added protein is enough. But since the pollen is a source of the amino acids that are always essential, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, as well as the amino acids that can become essential when there are not enough of the other amino acids from which they are made, arginine cysteine, glutamine, ornithine, proline, selenocysteine, serine, taurine, and tyrosine, a tiny amount of pollen can make a huge difference in muscle maintenance and immunity.

Why would you take pollen when you could chomp down on a steak or double up on tofu or add some protein powder to your smoothie? The reason bee pollen is a great addition to your diet is that it provides just enough protein and not too much. When you eat a great big steak or half a dozen eggs or a pound of tofu, your body does not store amino acids to make muscle later. And if you are a vegan and you would never even consider eating that great big steak or those dozen eggs, pollen is a great way to add to your amino acids.

Amino acids are released to the body on a “use it or lose it” basis. Any excess of any amino acid has to be broken down. And broken down into what? Sugar! Plus urea, which would cause acidification of the bloodstream if the kidneys could not alkalize that urea with calcium from your bones or glutamate from diets or muscle. Bee pollen supplements can help stop acidification of the urine, which is necessary to stop acidification of the bloodstream caused by excessive consumption of protein.

But protein is not the only thing that pollen offers.

Pollen Packs a Vitamin Punch

Pollen is also a great source of vitamins. Every vitamin known to humankind is found in bee pollen, including A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, D, E, and K.

Pollen is especially rich in riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). It's not a great source of cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) or vitamin D, so you can't give up meat (the most abundant source of vitamin B12 in most people's diets) or B12 supplements (needed by most vegans and vegetarians) and move into a cave just because you start taking pollen. But you can use small amounts of pollen to round out your vitamin nutrition on days you just might forget to take your supplements or eat all the fruits and vegetables your body needs.

It's a Great Source of Minerals, Too

Pollen is also a great source of minerals. Up to about 4% of the dry weight of pollen is minerals in a colloidal form, and it contains everything from boron to zinc.

Because you only consume small amounts of pollen relative to your total diet, however, you can't rely on pollen for the calcium and magnesium you need. But pollen is a great source of trace minerals that have a way of getting left out of even the best diets. Pollen is an especially good source of copper and zinc.

It's a Great Source of Antioxidants

One of the untold secrets about natural antioxidants is that there is no one single antioxidant that is best. When scientists have extracted single antioxidants for use as supplements in clinical trials, the results are usually not what experience with natural foods would predict. Eating foods that are rich in antioxidants, however, is a proven path to good health.

Plant foods vary greatly in their total antioxidant content. Wild rose hips, for example, have 1900 times the antioxidant power of zucchini (although that doesn't mean you have to stop eating zucchini, especially if you have bushel baskets of it fresh from your summer garden). Pomegranates have 275 times the antioxidant power of carrots (although you would still include some carrots in your diet specifically for the beta-carotene). Sour cherries have 5 times the antioxidant power of cherries.

Bee pollen, however, has nearly 30% more total antioxidant power than wild rose hips, and:

  • 3 times the total antioxidant power of acai berry,
  • 3-1/2 times the total antioxidant power of pomegranate juice,
  • 30 times the total antioxidant power of oranges and pineapples,
  • 40 times the total antioxidant power of lemons and dates,
  • 150 times the total antioxidant power of tomatoes and apples, and
  • 2800 times the total antioxidant power of that zucchini mentioned earlier.

There are, of course, other reasons for eating other foods. But if you are looking for sheer antioxidant power, pollen can't be beat. And if you are looking for specific antioxidants, pollen is a great source of them too.

Bee pollen usually contains at least four carotenoids, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. It usually contains at least seven flavonoids, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, luteolin, myricetin, quercetin, rutin, and tricetin. And it also contains beta-sitosterol and stigmasterols, all important phytochemicals for supporting healing of specific disease conditions.

But Won't Pollen Make Me Sneeze?

You will be happy to know that bees don't collect pollen from ragweed. They don't collect pollen from grasses. And they don't collect pollen of any kind that is usually “in the air.”

Bees specialize in collecting pollen from plants that make tiny grains of pollen that can't survive travel through the wind. The kinds of plants that make tiny grains of pollen might cause problems for you if you are allergic to them, but you have to get up close to the plant before it could possibly make you itch or sneeze.

And since you don't rub pollen on your skin or snort it up your nose, there is just about no chance that a bee pollen supplement or a pollen bar or smoothie can cause an allergic reaction. As soon as pollen hits your stomach, gastric juices and stomach acid begin to break it down into its nutrient components.

Still, it's not a bad idea to start off slowly the very first time you use bee pollen. Try eating just a little bit, maybe 1/4 teaspoon. That's about a gram. If there are no unwanted results, then try a teaspoon (about 5 grams). Then if there are no problems either time, use as much pollen as you like. But if you are one of the very few people who is actually allergic to it, you can always send the product back for a refund. But you're far more likely to be one of the many people who can use this miraculous product to fight allergies.

Honey, Pollen, and Allergies

Every mother used to know that the best way to stop children's seasonal sniffles during pollen season was to give the child a big spoon of honey every day during the winter. Hay fever and sometimes asthma could be kept at bay just with liberal use of honey.

Then a scientist decided to test the validity of this treatment that had worked for centuries. He recruited families willing to give their children a carefully regulated dosage of strained, pasteurized, commercial honey every day during the winter to see if it could be proven that honey prevented allergic reactions during pollen season.

You guessed it. It didn't.

But it turns out that the scientist wasn't testing the right product. It isn't honey that prevents allergies. It's pollen, which is more abundant in raw honey that hasn't been strained.

Pollen from local plants as a kind of natural homeopathic remedy for allergies. When you eat raw honey made by bees that feed on plants near your home, you get just a tiny amount of the pollen to which you are allergic with every bite. It's almost never enough to cause a true allergic reaction, but it is enough to “train” your immune system that the pollen is not a threat. People who eat locally produced raw, unstrained honey can build up allergy resistance.

But if you live in England and you're eating honey from Turkey, or if you live in New York and you're eating honey from Hawaii, or if like most people you have no idea where your honey comes from, even the pollen in natural honey isn't going to work like natural allergy shots. The honey has to be produced in the area where you have allergies.

Bee pollen itself, however, can help prevent allergies anywhere. That's because there is a second way pollen can help prevent allergies. It is rich in a flavonoid plant chemical known as quercetin.

Quercetin is a chemical that plants use to regulate the production of energy. Quercetin is in the same class of plant chemicals as amygdalin, sometimes known as vitamin B17, but quercetin is nontoxic.

One of the ways quercetin acts in the human body is as an inhibitor of the reactions that cause tiny packets of histamine, the chemical that triggers an allergic reaction. When we consume more quercetin, histamine tends to stay put in its storage compartments in the cells lining the nose and throat. The great advantage of quercetin as a natural antihistamine is that it does not cause drowsiness or loss of coordination and it's not habit forming. Even if you did not use pollen during your area's pollen-free season, taking bee pollen now will help with runny nose, itchy eyes, sniffles, and sneezing.

There are a very few people who should not use pollen for this purpose, and it's mostly due to the potential reaction with medications. If you take a drug for which the doctor has told you to avoid high-quercetin foods such as apples, onions, and grapefruit, then you should not use pollen, either. For most people, however, bee pollen and the quercetin it contains are completely non-toxic in any dosage.

And if you are concerned about allergies to the pollens in honey itself, the solution is to buy a brand of honey that is collected from plants that don't grow in your own environment, like the New Zealand manuka bush, which grows best on the west side of the South Island where almost no one lives. Other makes of quality brands of bee pollen take the precaution of mixing pollen collected from various locations just to make sure that no one kind of pollen predominates in the mix and could cause allergic reactions.

Pollen for Muscle Growth

Another popular application of pollen is bodybuilding. Dozens of brands of sports bars contain small amounts of pollen to encourage muscle recovery and growth.

What could pollen possibly have to do with building muscle? It turns out that scientists think that pollen has different effects in couch potatoes and fitness fans.

Let's start with the use of pollen in getting back into shape. Some of the most illustrative research involves the use of pollen in home bound hamsters. Laboratory studies have found that giving supplemental quercetin (the major antioxidant found in pollen) to sedentary lab animals:

  • Increases muscle endurance by 35 to 40%,
  • Activates a gene called PPAR-gamma, which helps insulin move sugar into the muscles that need it and
  • Dramatically increases the rate at which mitochondria (the energy making centers of every cell) burn sugar and fat.

Most of us, of course, don't buy supplements to encourage the family's hamster to get into shape. Most of us buy supplements that help our own workouts. The Coca-Cola company contracted with the University of Georgia to do a study of how a workout drink containing quercetin with vitamins B3, B6, and B12 compared to a workout drink that just contained the B vitamins. (Vitamin B12, it has to be pointed out, is not abundant in pollen. This experiment would be analogous to taking both bee pollen and vitamin B12.)

The researchers recruited men in their 20's to do a baseline workout and then to drink either the quercetin-enriched beverage or the beverage that did not contain quercetin for 7 days. Then the men came back for another workout. The scientists found that the men who drank the quercetin-enriched beverage had:

  • Greater volume of blood pumped by the heart,
  • Greater aerobic capacity,
  • Higher oxygen consumption, and
  • Faster recovery times

.. than the men who did not. Since there were only 15 men in the study (the scientists did not include women in the study because they were concerned that changes in hormones would change athletic performance in unpredictable ways) the results of the study were not statistically significant, but the study strongly suggests that products like bee pollen can improve athletic performance. Dozens of products for athletes add pollen to enhance breathing power and increase endurance. But the benefits of pollen aren't limited to stopping allergies and building athletic strength.

Pollen for Hot Flashes

Hot flashes are one of the most common complications of menopause. If there's any one symptom of menopause that is most likely to cause women to decide “I just can't take it anymore!” and start estrogen replacement therapy, it's hot flashes. Bee pollen, however, offers women an alternative treatment.

What proof is there that it works? Scientists at the University Hospital in Copenhagen in Denmark recruited women who had hot flashes to participate in a clinical trial of a pollen supplement called Femal. Half of the women took pollen twice a day for three months, and half of the women took Femal twice a day for three months. No other medications or hormone replacement therapy were used.

The Femal didn't “cure” hot flashes. It just reduced their frequency by 25%. That is more than enough reason to consider taking bee pollen for hot flashes, but it's probably a good idea not to stop there.

There are many other natural treatments that relieve hot flashes. Among them are tincture of chickweed, citrus bioflavonoids (hesperidin and diosmin), dong quai (tang-kuei), evening primrose oil, American ginseng and Korean ginseng (but not Siberian ginseng also known aeleuthero), and vitamin E. If one or two of these supplements along with pollen eliminates or nearly eliminates hot flashes, estrogen replacement therapy may not be necessary, and women who don't take estrogen replacement therapy don't have the added risks of breast and endometrial cancer, fluid retention, and blood clots.

But pollen isn't just for treating women's problems.

Prostate Enlargement

Bee pollen is well known as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as prostate enlargement. In fact, it's so well established as a treatment for prostate enlargement that in most countries of the European Union your doctor can write you a prescription for pollen and your health insurance plan will pay for it.

Most of the clinical trials of pollen as a treatment for prostate disorders have been sponsored by the makers of a bee pollen supplement known as Cernilton. In 2008, a team of researchers at the Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen in Germany conducted a clinical study of 139 men newly diagnosed with enlarged prostate who were given either pollen or a placebo for 3 months.

Pollen wasn't a wonder drug for prostate problems, but the study provided unequivocal proof that it helps prostate problems and it helps them a lot. In the German study, men who were given pollen reported:

  • Less pelvic pain,
  • Easier urination, and
  • Greater satisfaction with sex.

None of the 70 men in the study who received pollen experienced allergies or any other adverse reactions to the product. But that wasn't a big surprise. It has been used to treat prostate problems in Germany for nearly a century. And Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra have never been quite the big sellers in Germany that they are in some other countries.

But if you don't need it for allergies, muscle building, hot flashes, or prostate problems, you may just need it for this next application, weight loss.

Pollen for Weight Loss

Many people report that pollen is extremely helpful for weight loss. Just as it's not a wonder drug for other conditions, it's not a wonder drug for weight loss. It won't help you feel full on 500 calories a day. It won't reveal your six-back without your ever having to go to the gym.

But pollen can help you a lot if you are trying to lose weight the hard way, with a combination of diet and exercise.

The great thing about losing weight with a combination of diet and exercise is that you feel good about yourself as you feel good about your body. When you lose weight by putting on muscle, you deserve it. And the changes in your weight will be much longer lasting.

Pulling off weight loss while working out your muscles, however, is tricky, and the complicating factor is inflammation. A little inflammation is necessary to keep your muscles growing. A lot of inflammation stops muscle growth and packs on water weight around your waist.

The balance between a small amount of helpful inflammation and a large amount of destructive inflammation is accomplished with the help of an enzyme known as a proteasome. In muscle tissue, the substance is active after a workout to clear out damaged muscle fibers so newer, stronger, bulked out muscle fibers can take their place. But what does this have to do with dieting?

Building muscle is actually a very nutrient-intensive process. For about 2 hours after a workout, your muscles are 50 times more sensitive than usual to insulin. They take water, glucose, and amino acids out of the bloodstream to make the protein and glycogen they need to remodel themselves and grow larger and stronger.

When insulin is busy helping muscles grow, it's not available to help fat cells grow. And when you don't have insulin putting fat in cells, they can pump fat out for the rest of the body to use as fuel. And pollen, it turns out, increases the activity of the proteasome that makes this possible.

If you were to visit a nutritional supplements watchdog site like Consumer Lab, you would find an article that is critical of the use of the pollen in weight loss programs. The article cites yet another article in the New York Times that was also critical of the use of pollen in weight loss programs, and the article in the New York Times cites two studies from the 1970's—that happen not to exist.

The research that proves the usefulness of bee pollen for weight loss and muscle growth really does exist, however, and you can find it on line at Chemistry Central Journal, the June 23, 2011edition.

The research on pollen and proteasome has been conducted in Greece, where, understandably, scientists used bee pollen from Greek sources. But it's highly likely that similar results in muscle growth and weight loss can be achieved with any kind of high-quality pollen.

What Else Can It Do?

Over 500 laboratory and clinical studies from all over the world have found exciting uses for bee pollen.

  • Russian scientists have found that taking pollen can help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in normal-weight people, and help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in overweight people as they lose weight.
  • Scientists in Slovakia have conducted laboratory tests that found that pollen contains chemicals that may slow down or stop inflammation leading to the development of cysts in the ovaries.
  • Turkish scientists have found that pollen is remarkably useful in reducing pain and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, although honey is not.
  • Japanese scientists have found that pollen and propolis inhibit angiogenesis, the process through which cancerous tumors grow their own blood vessels.
  • Bulgarian researchers found that a pollen product called Melobrosia relieved depression in women going through menopause.

While all of these researchers used a particular brand of  pollen produced in their own countries, probably anyone can achieve comparable results with any brand of high-quality bee pollen. And on that topic, what is it that marks high-quality bee pollen?

How to Recognize High-Quality Pollen

If you are a connoisseur of fine honey, you already know how to recognize pollen. It's what gives honey its flowery tastes. The distinctive tastes of honey are in large part due to the grains of pollen in the raw product.

Pure pollen also has a distinctive taste and when it is fresh enough to deliver maximum nutrient content it has a flowery aroma and a fruity taste, something similar to fruit that is not quite ripe. The flavor of high-quality pollen is a little sweet and a little tart, never bitter or pungent.

The best-quality bee pollen is almost always vacuum packed. If pollen is collected under dry conditions and vacuum packed in 36 hours or less after harvest, or if it is collected under humid conditions and flash-frozen the same day it is harvested and then vacuum packed, bacterial and viral contamination will be zero.

Pollen produced and processed in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Greece, Spain, and Turkey is almost always packed almost as soon as it is harvested. Pollen that is produced in other countries often is not. In some countries, pollen is dried in ovens so it will not spoil during storage. The process of oven-drying the pollen, however, destroys almost all of the antioxidants and most of the vitamins in the product, although minerals and amino acids will be unaffected. Oven-drying and sterilization also make the pollen particles hard and flinty, and bring out a bitter after-taste.

There are unscrupulous companies who advertise their bee pollen as a weight loss product, and then mix diuretics with the pollen to ensure immediate, same-day changes in weight. The pounds you lose by urination after taking a diuretic, however, come right back, and the changes in your blood volume can prove disastrous if you are on a medication that has to be kept in a narrow range of concentrations in your bloodstream. One man in Japan even had to have dialysis after taking a contaminated pollen product from China. To be on the safe side, always use pollen products produced in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada, Spain, Greece, and Turkey.

On-Line Suppliers Are Usually Better

It's also usually best to get your pollen products from an on-line vendor. The advantage on-line vendors have over brick and mortar stores is that they don't have to maintain display shelves.

In a brick and mortar store, pollen has to compete with thousands of other products for a customer's attention. Since pollen is a premium product that is sold in small quantities, shopkeepers may store their pollen in a back room that doesn't have air conditioning or heat or that is not humidity controlled, bringing it out just before its expiration date.

On-line vendors don't have to keep other items in limited refrigerator space. They can keep their pollen products under refrigeration until they need to be shipped, ensuring maximum quality. And because they sell in volume, they are far more likely to offer their regular customers special sales and reduced-cost shipping bargains.

Is Processed Pollen Better?

Some bee pollen products are made with “cracked” pollen. There are good reasons for lightly milling pollen. Grains of pollen have tough outer coats to protect them from extremes of heat and cold and UV radiation. The smaller the grain of pollen (and bees, as you may recall, specialize in feeding on plants that have the smallest grains of pollen), the tougher the coat.

Bees feeding on pollen have all the digestive enzymes needed to break up the coat on pollen. Human beings, cats, and dogs do not. If you take the time to chew your pollen very thoroughly, your stomach can take care of the rest, but pets don't chew on cue, and children usually don't either. Therefore, most manufacturers mill their pollen to open its fibrous covering to make the nutrients within more digestible.

Is It Organic?

In the United States, the Department of Agriculture allows honey to be certified as “organic” if 95% of the product was collected from non-farm sources. Honey made from pollen bees collected from almond trees and peach trees sprayed with chemicals is not organic. Honey made from pollen bees collected from alfalfa grown organically or from wild stands of mesquite trees or brush in the American West is organic.

Most of the honey exported from New Zealand is unquestionably organic, because it's collected from stands of the manuka tree that grow wild on the western shore of the South Island, an area almost devoid of human habitation and certainly low in pollution. In fact, Manuka honey and pollen collected from Manuka bushes have certain unique healing properties.

What Is Manuka Honey and What's Special About New Zealand Pollen?

The manuka tree is the same plant that in Australia is known as the tea tree. This plant is strongly antibacterial. The leaves and stems are pressed for oil that is routinely used to treat acne and athlete's foot. In special situations, tea tree oil has been used to treat gangrene and antibiotic-resistant staph infections.

Manuka honey is made by bees that feed on the manuka plant. This honey also has remarkable antibacterial properties. Over 30 years ago it was found to be effective against Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium involved in stomach ulcers. Manuka honey has also been used to treat serious E. coli infections and Pseudomonas infections. It is used to treat antibiotic-resistant staph infections and is even used as surgical dressing. You can buy sterile bandages that have been soaked in Manuka honey to accelerate healing of broken skin.

Bee pollen collected from manuka groves in New Zealand has all the plant chemicals that are involved in the specialized applications of Manuka honey plus one advantage of almost every other kind of pollen collected anywhere in the world. New Zealand pollen is frozen within two hours of harvest. It's never heated in ovens. It's never adulterated with chemicals. It's kept fresh and sanitary and it's sold by vendors who take care to maintain the quality of their product right up until the time it's shipped.

There are other pollen products made in other countries that also have proven health benefits. But for the broadest range of applications in health and nutrition, you just can't do better than pollen from New Zealand.

How to Use Bee Pollen

The best way to use pollen is to eat it raw and whole. Take a little chunk and chew it thoroughly. Eating tiny amounts and chewing thoroughly enables your digestive tract to extract maximum nutrition. It is always best to take it on an empty stomach, and certainly not with high-fiber foods, to get the maximum nutritional benefits.

Some people find the taste a little strange, and that's the case for you, it is OK to take yours with a “chaser” of some other food. If you are not on a diet, you can mix it with peanut butter or drop a little in your hot cocoa. (Brief exposure to eat just before consumption does not diminish nutrition content.) You can add it to smoothies and juice drinks, but a little bit goes a long way. Use it in smoothies and juice drinks as if it were lemon zest or orange peel, and you will get about the right amount.  Personally, I sprinkle it onto my breakfast cereal.  It makes the milk go yellow and you get that slight chalky taste, but I like it that way.

There are also orange, chocolate, honey, and vanilla flavored chewable pollen wafers, and pressed pollen tablets that are meant to be swallowed whole with a small amount of water. Capsules are another option, but they cost two to ten times more per ounce/100 grams due to the cost of processing.

Some sports bars are made with pollen, but don't buy a sports bar just for your daily dose. Most sports bars that contain it are made with just a single gram—less than an eighth of the amount of you'd typically put in a smoothie or eat in a wafer.

Starting Out with Bee Pollen

The secret to success with taking pollen is to start small. You don't want to have an allergic reaction. You don't want to react with a loud “Eww” when you take your first bite. Take just one capsule or tablet or just one bite of to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions are rare but they aren't unheard of. Actually, most of the reactions to  pollen products are not really reactions to the pollen itself. It's more likely that an allergy reaction to “bee dander,” which can cause allergies in the same way as dog dander or cat dander, although you won't find this in high-quality products. Similarly, it's possible for improperly stored the products to contain mold spores, but proper handling storage minimize this possibility.

If you do have a mild allergic reaction to pollen, such as a little sniffling, a little indigestion, or maybe a little tingling in the skin, don't give up on it. Instead, let the manufacturer know. It could be that there is some component of the product other than bee pollen that is causing the problem and a different product or even a different lot of the same product could take care of the problem for you. In the extremely unlike event of a serious allergic reaction, see your doctor. Discontinue use of the product and ask for your money back. Honest vendors offer money-back guarantees.

Storing Pollen at Home

The most important thing to remember about storing pollen at home is that it is a perishable product. Think of it as produce. It needs to be stored in the refrigerator before and after you open it, whether it is in a plastic package, a bottle, a jar, or a can. Even better, keep most of it in the freezer and take out just small amounts for daily use.

Pollen has to be stored in a dark and dry environment. You should never add liquids or syrups to pollen in storage, and you should not handle it with wet fingers or damp utensils. Pollen that is stored damp can develop off flavors.

If you use a capsule or tablet form, be sure to close the bottle tightly after every use. Capsules and tablets can also be stored in the freezer. If you can't refrigerate it, then at least be sure to keep them in a dark, cool place. Bee pollen keeps longest at temperatures below 80° F/26° C.

A Boost for Your Pets?

The natural nutrients in pollen are just as valuable for your pet as they are for you. There are granules, tablets, and enriched chews for dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, and hamsters. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters can eat as much pollen as you care to feed them and they care to eat.

Dogs and ferrets, however, can't digest most plant foods well, and cats can't digest plant foods at all. It is very important not to give these animals more bee pollen than the manufacturer recommends.

About Andy Williams

Andy Williams, Ph.D., is a biologist with an interest in nutrition, natural heath & alternatives to pharmaceuticals. This site was created out of his interest in bees, an incredible social insect that offers us a range of natural health care products. Get our free Bees Daily newspaper delivered to your inbox.

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