Have you heard the buzz about bee pollen? It has been touted by the likes of Kourtney Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan Markle for its nutritional benefits. Victoria Beckham swears by it, saying that it helps keep her wrinkles at bay.
To be sure, bee pollen is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes. Research has credited it with:
- Easing the symptoms of menopause
- Supporting weight loss and increasing metabolism
- Accelerating wound healing
- Reducing inflammation
- Fighting off “free radicals” that increase risks for cancer and type 2 diabetes
- Fortifying the immune system
Bee pollen has also been associated with minimizing allergies, which is what we want to focus on in this blog.
What is bee pollen?
Flowers make pollen as part of their reproductive process, and bees harvest that pollen to feed their colony. After they collect the pollen from the flowers, they convert it into a “pollen ball,” which is a mixture of pollen, bee saliva, and nectar or honey. They then carry these balls back to the hive to nourish their fellow bees.
Beekeepers have figured out a clever way to collect this pollen for human consumption. They place a comb-like structure in front of the hive. As the bees return home, the tines of the comb knock some of the pollen off of their bodies into a container below. (Don’t worry, the bees still end up with enough to feed their colony.)
What’s the connection between bee pollen and allergy relief?
The theory behind bee pollen as a treatment for allergies is that it can help desensitize the body to pollens in the environment. This is same idea that underlies treatments such as subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) and sublingual immunotherapy (under-the-tongue allergy drops). With desensitization therapy, you introduce the body to tiny amounts of the very thing that it is allergic to. Over time, the immune system learns to make peace with that allergen and stop overreacting to it.
When you ingest bee pollen, you are exposing your body to pollens from allergenic grasses and trees in your area. The idea is that as you expose your body to these pollens consistently over time, it can develop immunity to them.
Is it proven?
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence in favor of bee pollen. Perhaps you know someone for whom it was a “miracle treatment” for their allergies. One study on mice showed that it suppressed the release of mast cells, which trigger allergic reactions. Another small study on humans showed that they reported fewer allergy symptoms when they were regularly ingesting bee pollen. This study recommended bee pollen as a “complementary,” rather than stand-alone, therapy for allergies.
If you are looking for an abundance of indisputable scientific evidence supporting bee pollen as an effective treatment for allergies, you won’t find it. However, preliminary research has suggested that it can provide allergy relief in some individuals. And anecdotally, there are many people who report symptom relief after regularly ingesting the pollen.
Can it help all allergies?
It’s important to note that bee pollen only helps with pollen allergies. That means that it will not be effective for allergies to mold, food, dust and pet dander. You should also remember that the pollen is limited to whatever the bee has gathered. For example, if you are allergic to birch trees and the pollen you are ingesting does not come from these trees, it won’t be effective for your particular allergy.
Buying local bee pollen will help increase the chance that it contains the specific pollens that are stirring up your allergies. Allergy testing can help you make any informed choice, as you will have a better idea of what you are allergic to and what you need in the bee pollen that you purchase.
If you are taking bee pollen to counteract a specific pollen, make sure to start taking it a few months before that type of pollen is in season. That way, your body will have a better chance of building up a resistance.
How do you consume bee pollen?
You can ingest bee pollen as part of your regular dietary intake. Doctors recommend starting with ¼ teaspoon per day to ensure that you don’t have any negative reactions. From there, you can increase your doses in ¼ teaspoon increments until you have reached one tablespoon per day—which is a good holding point.
The pollen can be sprinkled over salads, cold cereal, hot cereal, smoothies, or stir fries. Some people describe the taste as sweet and flower-like; others say it has undertones of nuts. The taste will vary depending on where it was harvested. Some people claim that if you soak the pollen in water first, your body will be able to absorb it better.
If you don’t want to worry about adding bee pollen to your food, you can take it in the form of bee pollen capsules or tablets.
Can it be dangerous?
Bee pollen is not recommended for people who are allergic to bees, as it could potentially trigger an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylactic reactions can be scary, causing blood pressure to plunge and airways to tighten up. In severe cases, it can be life-threatening.
People who are taking blood thinners should not take bee pollen as it could react poorly with their medication. Nursing or pregnant women and children under 12 should also avoid bee pollen as its effects on children and infants have not been studied.
How does bee pollen compare to conventional allergy treatment?
On the one hand, it’s natural. If you have been beating your allergies back with a steady diet of antihistamines and decongestants, you will appreciate that bee pollen does not contain the same types of synthetic chemicals that can produce unwanted side effects.
The challenge with bee pollen, however, is that it’s arbitrary. It’s hard to know what pollens it contains, and it may only include a couple of the things you are allergic to. In addition, it does not have the scientific backing that allergy immunotherapy does.
Another perk of allergy immunotherapy is that it protects you from many types of allergens. For example, our sublingual immunotherapy “serum mix” protects against dust, different types of mold, pet dander, and dozens of the most prevalent pollens from across the country for broad protection wherever people live or travel. Bee pollen can only target a small fraction of these allergens. And like bee pollen, allergy immunotherapy contains all-natural ingredients, so you won’t get the side effects of prescription drugs.
There’s no doubt that bee pollen is a superfood—although more research is needed to fully understand its potential and limitations. Don’t expect it to cure all that ails you (including your allergies), but its nutrition profile reveals a food that may present impressive overall health benefits with limited risks.