Honey and Other Bee Products
Honey can be found in its standard amber state but may also be red, brown, and even nearly black. Made by bees in an elegantly natural process, honey is designed for bees’ nourishment. Incredibly, each bee makes on average only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. Considering the tons of honey produced each year that is a lot of bees at work!
The honeybee (Latin name Apis) ﬁrst travels several miles to collect nectar from local ﬂowers into its mouth. Enzymes in the bee saliva then create a chemical reaction that turns this nectar into honey, which is deposited into the walls of the hive. Incredibly rapid movement of the bees’ wings aerates the honey, which decreases its water content and makes it ready to eat. Textures and ﬂavor are dependent on which ﬂowers the honeybees choose. Typical choices include heather, alfalfa, clover, and the acacia ﬂower.
Less common but well-known ﬂowers that confer their own special taste characteristics on the honey include thyme and lavender. In addition to honey, bees produce bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. These products concentrate many phytochemicals with powerful health-promoting activity. Yet, for the most part, these foods have been underappreciated and underutilized in North America.
• Bee pollen comes from the male germ cell of ﬂowering plants. As the honeybee travels from ﬂower to ﬂower, it fertilizes the female germ cells with some of the male germ cells it picks up. Honeybees make possible the reproduction of more than 80 percent of the world’s grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The remaining male pollen is collected and brought to the hive, where the bees add enzymes and nectar to the pollen.
• Bee pollen is comprised of tiny, golden yellow to dark brown granules that have a delicate ﬂavor and aroma that varies according to the plant pollen it was made from and is used as a nutritive tonic as well as to desensitize seasonal allergies.
• Propolis is the resinous substance collected by bees from the leaf buds and barks of trees, especially poplar and conifer trees. The bees utilize the propolis along with beeswax to construct the hive. Propolis has antibiotic activities that help the hive block out viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. Propolis is yellow to brown, waxy, and bitter-ﬂavored and is used as an antimicrobial.
• Royal jelly is a thick, milky substance produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee. The worker bees mix honey and bee pollen with enzymes in the glands of their throats to produce royal jelly. Royal jelly is believed to be a useful nutritional supplement because of the queen bee’s superior size, strength, stamina, and longevity compared to other bees. It is used as a nutritive tonic.
History of Honey
Referred to in ancient Sumerian, Vedic, Egyptian, and biblical writings, honey has been employed since ancient times for both nutrition and healing medicine. For centuries honey has been a multipurpose food, used to give homage to the gods and to help embalm the dead, as well as for medical and cosmetic purposes.
Some evidence suggests that despite the risk of bee sting, collection of honey has occurred since 7000 B.C.E., and since at least 700 B.C.E., beekeeping for the production of honey (apiculture) has been used. To the surprise of the Spanish conquistadors, the natives of Central and South America were already keeping bees for the purpose of collecting honey when they arrived. Honey was considered a food of the rich for many years.
More recently, honey has decreased in popularity as reﬁned sugar, which is cheaper and sweeter, has replaced the sweet, viscous liquid in ordinary households all over the world.
Nutritional Highlights of Honey
Honey is a source of riboﬂavin and vitamin B 6. It also provides iron and manganese. A 100 gram serving of honey provides 304 calories, mostly as 82.4 grams of carbohydrate, almost all of which is sugar, 0.3 gram of protein, and no fat. However, honey is more likely to be consumed by the tablespoon (15 grams), which provides 64 calories, 17.3 grams of carbohydrate, and 0.1 gram of protein.
Bee pollen is often referred to as “nature’s most perfect food” because it is a complete protein (typically containing 10 to 35 percent total protein) in that it contains all eight essential amino acids. Bee pollen also provides B vitamins, vitamin C, carotene, minerals, DNA and RNA, numerous ﬂavonoid molecules, and plant hormones.
Propolis and royal jelly have similar nutritional qualities as pollen but have considerably higher levels of different biologically active compounds. A 100 gram serving provides 313 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 25 grams of protein, and 12.5 grams of fat. A table- spoon provides 25 calories, 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of fat.
Health Benefits of Honey
The health beneﬁts of a particular honey depend on its processing as well as the quality of the ﬂowers the bees utilize when collecting the pollen. Raw honey is honey that has not been pasteurized, clariﬁed, or ﬁltered, and this form typically retains more of the healthful phytochemicals lost to the standard processing of honey.
Propolis is a product of tree sap mixed with bee secretions that is used by bees to protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Propolis is unfortunately lost in honey processing, thus greatly reducing the level of phytochemicals known to protect against the germs; recent research suggests that these may also prevent certain types of cancer.
Also important, healthy, organic ﬂowering plants will provide the raw nectar that will confer a higher-quality nutrient proﬁle to the honey produced. Within the propolis are well-researched phytochemicals that have cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid, methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate.
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Researchers have discovered that these substances in propolis prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down the activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-speciﬁc phospholipase C and lipoxygenase that are involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.
The following sections address the health beneﬁts of honey in its raw form.
Honey, particularly darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, is a rich source of phenolic compounds, such as ﬂavonoids, that exert signiﬁcant antioxidant activity. A recent human trial showed that daily consumption of honey actually improves blood antioxidant levels and helps prevent lipid peroxidation.
Lipid peroxidation, the damaging of lipids (such as cholesterol) by free radicals, is central to the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Honey’s ability to prevent lipid peroxidation may trans- late into a protective effect against atherosclerosis, since oxidized cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for this cardiovascular disease.
In one human trial, twenty-ﬁve men aged eighteen to sixty-eight years drank a mixture equivalent to about 4 tablespoons of honey in a glass of water every day for a period of ﬁve weeks. The honey, which had antioxidant levels similar to those in apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries, was shown to signiﬁcantly improve blood antioxidant levels in all the subjects.
Earlier studies conducted by Dr. Nicki Engeseth, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, determined the antioxidant capacity of buckwheat, Hawaiian Christmas berry, tupelo, soybean, clover, ﬁre-weed, and acacia honeys.
Using the test that is the gold standard for such research—the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay—-Engeseth found that the darkest-colored honeys, such as buckwheat honey, have the highest ORAC values, which are related to the amount of phenolic compounds they contain.
The human trial, also led by Engeseth, showed that the higher a honey’s ORAC activity, the better able it was to inhibit lipoprotein (cholesterol) oxidation. Engeseth’s research suggests that honey could be used as a healthy alternative to sugar and serve as a source of dietary antioxidants in many products.
Honey is an excellent source of readily available carbohydrate, a chief source of quick energy. In the time of the ancient Olympics, athletes were reported to eat special foods, such as honey and dried ﬁgs, to enhance their sports performance. Recently, one group of researchers investigated the use of honey as in performance aid in athletes. The study involved a group of thirty-nine weight-trained athletes, both male and female.
Subjects underwent an intensive weight-lifting workout and then immediately consumed a protein supplement blended with sugar, maltodextrin, or honey as the carbohydrate source. The honey group maintained optimal blood sugar levels throughout the two hours following the workout. In addition, muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration (carbohydrates stored in muscle) was favorable in those individuals consuming the honey-protein combination.
Sustaining favorable blood sugar concentrations after endurance training by ingesting carbohydrates before, during, and after training is important for maintaining muscle glycogen stores (glycogen is the form in which sugar is stored in muscle as ready-to-use fuel), so that muscle recuperation is more efﬁcient and the athlete is ready to perform again at his or her highest level the next day.
So for now, honey appears to be a suitable source of carbohydrate that can help athletes perform at their best, but it does not appear to be a superior choice compared to other carbohydrates.
The wound-healing properties of honey maybe the most promising medicinal quality. Honey has been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns, and wounds for centuries. One study in India compared the wound-healing effects of honey to a conventional treatment (silver sulphadiazene) in 104 ﬁrst-degree burn patients.
After one week of treatment, 91 percent of honey- treated burns were infection-free compared with only 7 percent receiving the conventional treatment. At the conclusion of the study, a greater percentage of patients’ burns were healed more readily in the honey-treated group.
Another study examined the wound-healing beneﬁts of honey applied topically to patients following cesarean section and hysterectomy surgeries. Compared to the group receiving the standard solution of iodine and alcohol, the honey-treated group was infection-free in fewer days, healed more cleanly, and had reduced hospital stays.
Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the wound-healing beneﬁts that are observed when honey is applied topically. Because honey is composed mainly of glucose and fructose, two sugars that strongly attract water, honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that the growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited. Secondly, raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic.
In addition to the glucose oxidase enzyme found in honey, which may help in the healing process, honey also contains antioxidants and ﬂavonoids that may function as antibacterial agents. One antioxidant in particular, pinocembrin, which is unique to honey, is currently being studied for its antibacterial properties.
One laboratory study of unpasteurized honey samples indicated the majority had antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium found readily in our environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli and Candida albicans.
Darker honeys, speciﬁcally honey from buckwheat ﬂowers, sage, and tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health-supportive substances.
Propolis contains well-researched phytochemicals that have numerous cancer-preventing and antitumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid, methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down the activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-speciﬁc phospholipase C and lipoxygenase that are involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.
How to Select and Store Honey
Honey is usual
ly found pasteurized, although more health-conscious consumers can ﬁnd the raw version as well (see “Health Beneﬁts” above). Pasteurized honey is generally translucent; honeys that are “creamy” are usually produced by mixing crystallized honey into the liquid honey mixture.
Darker honey is usually of a stronger ﬂavor. Flavors also depend on the ﬂower nectars from which the honey is produced, so it is fun to try honey made from various sources to experience the gustatory nuances in this delicious food. High sugar and acid content helps this liquid remain quite fresh for long periods of time.
Honey does easily absorb moisture from air, and honey stored in an airtight container will keep practically indeﬁnitely. Since cold promotes viscosity and changes honey’s ﬂavor and taste, it is best not to store honey in cold conditions.
Bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly are most often available in the refrigerated sections in health food stores in opaque containers to maintain optimal freshness. Fresh royal jelly is more difﬁcult to ﬁnd in the U.K., but there are some suppliers on the Internet. These foods should be stored in the refrigerator. Bee pollen and propolis will keep for up to one year, while royal jelly will keep up to six months.
BEE POLLEN, PROPOLIS, AND ROYAL JELLY
While honey has some major health beneﬁts, it is a source of signiﬁcant amounts of simple sugars; if you are looking for the health beneﬁts without so much sugar, it is best to choose another bee product. These products and their primary uses are:
Product Effective for
Bee pollen Allergies
Support for chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Propolis Common cold
Upper respiratory tract infections
Royal jelly Elevated cholesterol levels
Little research has been done on bee pollen—probably because there is little ﬁnancial reward to justify such an investment—but the research that does exist is impressive. For example, studies in animals show that bee pollen can promote growth and development, protect against free-radical and oxidative damage, and protect against the effects of harmful radiation as well as toxic exposure to chemical solvents.
Bee pollen extract has also been shown to produce signiﬁcant improvement in menopausal symptoms, including headache, urinary incontinence, dry vagina, and decreasing vitality, in double-blind studies. The improvements were achieved even though the pollen extract produces no oestrogenic effect, an important consideration for women who cannot take oestrogens of any kind.
Propolis has inherent antibiotic activity to help the hive block out viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. It seems these same effects can help humans block out organisms as well, since propolis has shown considerable antimicrobial octivity in test-tube studies. Propolis also stimulates the body’s immune system, according to preliminary human studies. Test-tube and animal studies have shown that propolis exerts some antioxidant, liver-protecting, anti-inﬂammatory, and anticancer properties, too.
One of the key uses of propolis may turn out to be offering protection against and shortening the duration of the common cold. A preliminary human study reported that propolis extract reduced upper respiratory infections in children. In a double-blind study of ﬁfty patients with the common cold, the group taking propolis extract became symptom-free far more quickly than the placebo group did.
Another possible application of propolis is in the treatment of inﬂammatory bowel diseases (lBD’s), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerotive colitis. In June 200i, Ralph Golan, M.D., the author of Optimal Wellness, described an interesting case of ulcerative colitis that responded to propolis therapy in an article in the Townsend: Letter for Doctors. Dr. Golan feels that the antimicrobial and anti-inﬂammatory properties of propolis are put to good use in the treatment of lBD.
The antimicrobial properties of propolis may also help protect against parasitic infections in the gastrointestinal tract. One preliminary study of children and adults with giardiasis (a common intestinal parasite infection) showed a 52 percent rate of successful parasite elimination in children and a 60 percent rate in adults in those given propolis extract (amount not stated). However; these results are not as impressive as those achieved with conventional drugs used against giardiasis, so propolis should not be used alone for this condition without first consulting a physician about available medical treatment.
There has been reasonable scientific investigation of royal jelly’s cholesterol-lowering effect. Speciﬁcally, ten human only three studies utilized an oral preparation. An injectable form was used in the other four.
Results of a detailed analysis of the double-blind studies indicate that with oral preparations, despite shortcomings in the design of the studies and lack of standardization of the commercial preparations used, royal jelly can produce decreases in total cholesterol levels of about l 4 percent in patients with moderate to severe elevations in blood cholesterol levels (initial values ranging from 210 to 325 milligrams per deciliter/5.4 to 8.4 mmol/l).
Even better results may be noted when using higher-quality royal jelly products.studies have been published, seven of which were double-blind. Of these seven double-blind studies,
Quick Serving Ideas for Honey
1. Honey is a ﬁne replacement for white cane sugar as a sweetener in your coffee or tea.
2. A healthy light snack is to slice an apple, drizzle it with honey, and sprinkle it with 1/2 tea- spoon of cinnamon.
3. Buy plain yogurt and add honey for a natural sweetener that is not too sugary.
4. Children of all ages have always enjoyed sandwich bread with a combination of peanut or almond butter, plus bananas and honey.
5. In a saucepan over low heat, combine 2 cups soy milk, 2 tablespoons honey, and 2 table- spoons unsweetened cocoa to make a deliciously nutritious hot cocoa.
6. Enjoy the pleasure of homemade honey-roasted nuts. Drizzle a little honey onto nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, and roast in a low-temperature oven until hot.
7. To give baked sweet potatoes even more of a sweet taste, pour a little bit of honey on top.
8. Add a nutritious punch to your protein smoothie by adding 1 teaspoon or more bee pollen or royal jelly.
Because honey can contain spores of Clostridium b0tulinum—the causative agent of botulism, an infection in infants—children less than twelve months old should not be fed honey. Due to their more mature digestive tract, honey is safe for children one year of age and older
Allergic reaction is the most common side effect from bee products. If you know you are allergic to honey, bee pollen, or conifer and poplar trees, do not use bee products. Allergic reactions can range from very mild, such as mild gastrointestinal upset, to more severe reactions, including asthma, anaphylaxis (shock), intestinal bleeding, and even death in people who are extremely allergic to bee products.
Honey contains small amounts of oxalates Individuals with a history of calcium oxalate- containing kidney stones should limit their consumption of this food.