About Bee Products

By Prof. Avshalom Mizrahi

bee

Bee products constitute one of the most widely applied groups of natural products used by human beings from since ancient times. Honeybees are master chemists and chemical engineers. Their success in the animal kingdom is largely due to the chemistry and application of their products: honey, beeswax, bee venom, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly are all chemically synthesised by the bees themselves. Honey, propolis and pollen are derived from plants and are modified and engineered for the bees' own use. Use of these products explains the amazing honeybee success.

Honey is used as a stable, reliable food source that serves during times of shortage, enables the bees to warm up their nest during cold weather, and has allowed them to become perennial species that can exploit virtually any habitat in the world.

Beeswax is used as a pliable, stable and moisture-proof material with which to construct nests, to store honey safely and to rear broods.

Venom gives honeybees the advantage of a formidable defence that is capable of stopping or deterring all except the most determined and capable of predators.

Propolis is an outstandingly good caulking used to seal the nest cavity and is also one of the best anti-microbial agents known.

Pollen, like honey, is a nutrient-rich food that can be stored in the hive indefinitely to serve as a reserve during times of shortage.

Royal jelly is a balanced food source that does not spoil readily and is used to feed bee larvae.

Honey

Honey has been the most known, discussed and widely applied bee product from ancient times to until now. It is a supersaturated solution of sugars making honey hygroscopic (moisture absorbing) and viscous. The sugar concentration plus other factors including low pH, hydrogen peroxide, and the flavonoids, phenolics and terpenes make honey an anti-microbial agent.

The main use of honey is as a flavourful sweetener and energy source. Secondary but important uses of honey are for the promotion of health and well-being. Some of these uses include aiding in the healing of wounds, serious skin burns and gastric ulcers. The basis of wound- and burn-healing properties of honey is its anti-microbial, moisturising/ fluid removal and oxygen-barrier properties.

The healing properties of honey were clearly demonstrated in a study comparing honey treatment to that of silver sulphadiazine, the standard treatment, for burn victims. The results of a study clearly showed that honey treatments resulted in much greater wound sterility, a faster rate of healing, and a faster onset of healing.1

Honey acts as an anti-microbial agent against a very wide spectrum of pathogenic bacteria (Gram positive as well as gram-negative bacteria), moulds and viruses. Based on its positive properties honey is widely used in cosmetics. It makes up 30 - 40% of certain creams used for enriching skin vitality and healing.

Pollen

In general, when compared with many standard human foods pollen is rich in protein, low in fat, and possesses a wealth of minerals and vitamins. No obvious human nutritional deficiencies are present in pollen, with the possible exceptions of vitamin B12 and the fat-soluble vitamins D and K. Pollen has a higher nutrient value than any of the foods with which it was compared. In terms of protein value pollen ranked number two, and was above beef on this score. The overall conclusion is that pollen is a food source par excellence, probably not exceeded by any other food.

The one caveat is that pollen is much too expensive to be considered a primary food, while consumption of large quantities can cause adverse effects. However, this does not preclude pollen from being an excellent food supplement that can enhance the health and well-being of individuals, especially those who might otherwise have an unbalanced diet.

Pollen and pollen products have been shown to have several beneficial applications for human use. It has been successfully used for the treatment of some cases of benign prostatitus2-6 and for oral desensitisation of children with pollen allergy.7

Propolis

Propolis is plant resin collected by bees for use in and around the hive. In plants it forms the sticky coating around buds that serves to protect them from the elements as well as from attacks by bacteria, fungi, moulds and viruses. These properties, which are useful to the bees, are enhanced by the sticky nature of the propolis.

Much work has been done on the chemistry and properties of propolis, with hundreds of chemical compounds having been identified. The main chemical classes present in propolis are flavonoids, phenolics, and various aromatic compounds.

Propolis is considered to be the natural product with the highest anti-microbial activity acting against the widest spectrum of bacteria, fungi and viruses - even more than that of honey. It has been called the optimal natural antibiotic.

Propolis also has an anti-inflammatory effect, tumour cytotoxicity and anaesthetic effect.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a creamy product secreted by young nurse worker bees to feed the queen, queen larvae, and other young larvae. It is totally synthesised by the bees in the gypopharyngeal and mandibular glands and is derived from the proteins and nutrients in the pollen ingested by the secreting bees.

Royal jelly consists of an emulsion of proteins, sugars and lipids in a water base. The proteins have no particularly unusual properties; their main function is to provide the growing larvae or the queen with a readily digested source of protein. The remainder of the composition, with the exception of the lipids, also appears to be oriented toward providing a balance of nutrients for the queen and larvae.

For humans, royal jelly is an appealing creamy emulsion that is strongly anti-bacterial. These properties make it an ideal component of cosmetic and skin care products. Internal uses of royal jelly are less promising and there have been reports of adverse reactions, suggesting that caution should be exercised when ingesting it.8

Bee Venom

Bee venom is synthesised by honeybees for only one purpose - as a defence against predators, primarily large mammals and other vertebrate predators. In order to be of value as a defence the venom must induce pain, cause damage, or have some other pharmacological or sensory action on the potential predator.

Bee venom, unlike many other insect allomones or chemical defenses, is water and not fat soluble, and must be injected or applied to moist tissue to be active.

Mankind has used bee venom primarily for apitherapy to treat a variety of autoimmune diseases - recently immunotherapy has been used to treat bee sting-allergic patients. Bee venom therapy (BVT) has been particularly successful in individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, other immune disorders including scleroderma and asthma have been treated in this way. BVT is one of the major apitherapy concepts involving the use of bee products for curing human diseases. A comprehensive review of bee venom therapy was published by Cherbuliez in 1997.9

Beeswax

Beeswax is synthesised by the honeybees in four pairs of glands and is used as their primary building material for making combs for rearing their brood and for storage of honey and pollen.

While beeswax has many industrial uses it is not a significant apitherapy product. Beeswax is an important ingredient in ancient and modern cosmetic products.

Without these unique products it is likely that honeybees would be different from their ancestors, namely solitary bees with each female bee, during a brief season, providing a few cells with pollen and nectar for the next generation.

Conclusion

Bee products are natural, and although originally produced to be used by the bees themselves, humans use them successfully in a wide spectrum of applications. This is clear-cut proof that in nature we can find all we need for our life, health and the curing of illness.1

References:

1.Subrachmanyam M. Typical application of honey in treatment of burns. Br J Surg 1991; 78: 497-498

2.Denis LJ. Chronic prostatitis. Acta Urol Belg 1966; 34: 49-55

3.Ask-Upmark E. Prostatitis and its treatment. Acta Med Scand 1967; 181: 355-357

4.Hayashi AU, Mitsui J, Yamakawas H. Clinical evaluation of cernilton in benign prostatic hypertrophy. Hinoykika Kiyo 1986; 32: 135-141

5.Samochowiec L, Dutkiewicz T, Wojcincki J, Gieldanwoski J. The influence of pollen extracts (cernitin GBX and cernitin T60) on allergic reactions. Phytother Res 1992; 6: 314-317.

6.Rugendorff EW, Weidner W, Ebeling L, Buck AC. Results of treat-ment with pollen extract ( cernilton N) in chronic pro statitis and prostatodynia. Br J Urol 1993; 71: 433-438.

7.Wortmann F. Oral immunotherapy. In: Steffen C, Ludwig H, eds. Clinical Immunology and Allergology. Amsterdam: Elsevier/North-Holland, 1981: 389-398

8.Schmidt JO. Bee products, chemical composition and application. In: Mizrahi A, Lensky Y, eds. Bee Products: Properties, Applications and Apitherapy. London: Plenum, 1997: 15-26.

9.Cherbuliez TH. Bee venom in treatment of chronic diseases. In: Mizrahi A, Lensky Y, eds. Bee Products: Properties, Applications and Apitherapy. London: Plenum, 1997: 213-220

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