Most people are well versed with the golden-delicious honey bees produce; however, did you know that honey is not the only sugar-rich product found in beehives. Royal jelly, a substance that bees have expertly created for millennia, is highly sought after by humans for numerous reasons. So if you’re interested in royal jelly, we’ll investigate it in depth below.
Worker honey bees secrete milky-white, gelatinous royal jelly, which they feed to the queen bee and larvae. Royal jelly is highly nutritious, and it has many uses in health and cosmetics. Scientific evidence on the effectiveness of royal jelly remains limited as more testing is required.
If you were to ask someone who swears by using royal jelly, they’d tell you it is a miracle product that treats many ailments and diseases. But is royal jelly truly that wonderful of a product? How do humans use it? How is it harvested? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of royal jelly, and how do bees make it?
Bees are amazing creatures that come in varying shapes and sizes. We find bees globally except for Antarctica and some polar regions.
Bees are well known for their honey-making. However, bees also produce bee pollen, beeswax, venom, propolis, and royal jelly. Each of these substances has a unique role to play in the beehive and for the good of the colony.
Today we’ll focus on royal jelly, but before we get into how it is made and its uses, we’ll first investigate what it is.
As the name suggests, Royal jelly is a gelatinous substance that bees secrete. It is a milky-white color with yellow or beige hues.
Royal jelly has a relatively thick consistency, like a slightly runny paste (think of it as bee saliva). As royal jelly stands at room temperature, it becomes more viscous.
This jelly has a sour taste and a strong “phenolic” smell (sickly sweet and tar-like).
Royal jelly is soluble in water and has an acidic pH between 3.6 and 4.2.
Although royal jelly does not resemble honey in appearance, it does bear some similarities to honey in composition.
Although the exact composition of royal jelly varies according to geography, climate, and by extension, the plant species present; the general composition includes:
- Water – between 60% and 70%
- Sugar – between 10% and 16%
- Proteins – between 12% and 15%
- Fats – between 3% and 6%
- Vitamins – between 2% and 3%
The vitamins found in royal jelly include:
Royal jelly also consists of mineral salts (calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc) and 8 essential (for humans) amino acids.
These nutrients are “tied up” in nine glycoproteins (major royal jelly proteins) and two fatty acids.
The glycoproteins found in royal jelly include:
The two fatty acids found in royal jelly are:
- 10-Hydroxy-2-decenoic acid
- 10-hydroxydecanoic acid
Royal jelly also contains phenolic compounds. Phenolic acids are the flavonoids obtained from plants and are found in honey. Thence flavonoids provide numerous benefits, playing significant roles in a bee’s development and immune responses.
Royal jelly also contains enzymes from honey bee saliva, including glucose oxidase, phosphatase, and cholinesterase.
Worker honey bees produce royal jelly. More specifically, (young) nurse honey bees secrete royal jelly from their hypopharyngeal gland (also known as the “brood food gland”) located inside their heads.
Do All Types Of Bees Make Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly is unique to honey bees (Apis mellifera) and particularly young (nurse) worker bees found inside the hive. Royal jelly is specifically from younger bees because their hypopharyngeal glands are most active 6 to 12 days after a bee emerges from her cell (as an adult).
We, humans, are an opportunistic species. It doesn’t take us long to identify something that another species does/uses before we try to replicate or “confiscate” their hard work.
Royal jelly is another prime example of humans noticing something bees produce and use and then harvesting it ourselves.
On the other hand, Bees have evolved to use royal jelly over millions of years. Below we will investigate what uses bees and humans find for royal jelly.
The primary purpose of royal jelly is to nurture the current and future queen bees and, to a lesser extent, to feed newly hatched larvae.
Most of us know that a honey bee hive consists of one reproductive queen bee and many sterile daughters (the worker caste). Queens also lay a replacement when they reach the end of their productivity.
Queen bees have a limited lifespan of roughly 3 years (under good circumstances). After laying over a million eggs (roughly 2 000 a day), one would expect that she’d reach an endpoint!
Consequently, there is no difference between the future queen and the sterile daughter worker bees from a genetic perspective. One of the pivotal differences in “creating” a queen is nutrition during the larval stage. Here enters royal jelly.
Worker Bee Vs. Queen Bee Larvae
Although worker bees feed royal jelly to the queen and worker larvae, the significant difference is that after 3 days, the nurse bees stop feeding worker bees pure royal jelly and switch them to a diet of royal jelly mixed with honey and “bee bread.”
Worker bees feed the royal jelly they produce directly to the current and developing queens, i.e., bees don’t actively store royal jelly; as they secrete it, they feed it.
However, when a new queen is “prepared,” worker bees begin to secrete excessive amounts of royal jelly. The amount of jelly is too great for the larvae to consume immediately, and the stockpile usually lasts for four to five days.
Although royal jelly plays a significant role in creating a new queen, it is not the only contributing factor. In recent studies, researchers discovered that queen development is linked to queen larvae not consuming regular honey and pollen and exclusively eating royal jelly.
The lack of “common” food plays a significant role in determining what caste the larvae develop into. Honey and “bee bread” (pollen and honey dough-like mixture) contain p-coumaric acid, other phytochemicals, and phenolic acids. When bees consume this compound, it inhibits ovary development, resulting in infertile bees.
Due to their exclusive royal jelly diet, queen larvae grow more rapidly than workers, growing to a larger size.
Humans use royal jelly to treat numerous ailments even though there is not a tremendous amount of scientific evidence.
Some of these ailments include:
- Controlling the symptoms of menopause
- Treating diabetes and its symptoms
- Relieving the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome
- Assisting those struggling with obesity and the consequences thereof
- Controlling the symptoms of asthma
- Counteracting the effects of fatigue
- Reducing the symptoms of hay fever
- Treating high cholesterol
- Treating/reducing inflammation
- Treating kidney disease and its symptoms
- Treating pancreatitis
Although scientific evidence is sparse in humans (due to limited amounts of testing), some experiments using royal jelly on animals yielded results in:
- Contracting against the presence of tumors
- Reducing the hardening of the arteries
Whether royal jelly works or not doesn’t alter the fact that many people swear by the stuff and use it for cosmetic and health reasons, some more uses that we have for royal jelly include:
- Improving general health and well-being (boosting immunity, mood, and mental health)
- Creams and other anti-aging products
- Some people use royal jelly as a fertility treatment
Although scientists and skeptics argue that royal jelly has not undergone sufficient vigorous testing for us to consider it useful in treating certain conditions and ailments, some swear by using royal jelly for the multitude of benefits it provides.
Royal jelly contains 9 glycoproteins and 2 fatty acids. Royal jelly also contains at least 4 vitamin B compounds. These components are what many believe give royal jelly its health benefits.
The most significant health benefit of royal jelly is its ability to potentially enhance your body’s immune system (i.e., to help you better fight against infection from bacteria and viruses).
Unfortunately, there is little literature on the subject, and more extensive testing is necessary before royal jelly’s properties are fully understood. While some results are published on the health benefits of royal jelly, there are also many conflicting results, making it difficult to sift through the bias.
Aside from general health benefits, there is evidence of royal jelly assisting with particular conditions, for example, menopause.
Although testing is limited, one study of post-menopausal rats described improved memory and reduced depression after scientists fed royal jelly to the test subject. While another test determined that 800mg of royal jelly fed to humans (women) lessened anxiety and back pain.
Specifically, Antibacterial and antifungal properties because of mixing with bee saliva. Bee’s saliva is rich in enzymes that attract certain bacteria and fungi strains. Researchers believe that the 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid found in royal jelly is what gives it some of its antibacterial properties.
Another attribute ascribed to royal jelly is its ability to counteract the effects of aging. Once again, researchers conducted tests on rats and found that their lifespans increased and their cognitive faculties after ingesting royal jelly.
Aside from ingestion, royal jelly is often used topically in the form of cream or other skincare products. The positive effects attributed to royal jelly on collagen production, skin regeneration, protection, and overall quality are some benefits of using royal jelly.
Although there are several cases of royal jelly’s effects on animals, human testing is still relatively insufficient.
Many people swear by honey’s ability to improve wound recovery time, and it would seem that royal jelly shares this trait when used topically (on the wound) or taken orally.
Aside from the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of royal jelly (which assist with preventing infection and reducing swelling), some researchers discovered that when they gave royal jelly extract to rats, there was an increase in collagen production, which resulted in quicker skin repair.
However, within humans, there are studies with conflicting results. One study on human skin cells suggests we might benefit from this quicker tissue healing, while another study on diabetic foot ulcers produced no significant regenerative benefits.
Royal Jelly May Assist In Cancer Treatment Recovery
Scientists believe that royal jelly may assist in alleviating the symptoms and reduce some of the negative side effects of chemotherapy and other degenerative cancer treatments. These symptoms include gastrointestinal issues, heart failure, and inflammation.
In one particular study, researchers discovered that royal jelly reduced the degree of heart damage that rats suffered during chemotherapy.
Researchers hypothesize that royal jelly may prevent side effects of mucositis (ulcer development in your digestive tract).
Scientists found that royal jelly may improve tear secretion by the lacrimal glands in humans and animals. Researchers treated patients (test subjects) orally with royal jelly and saw an improvement in their chronic dry eye conditions.
Although there were no negative side effects from the testing, the experiment was limited in size, and more evidence is required.
Although more research is required before any conclusive evidence is available, it appears that royal jelly has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to a study published on PubMed, royal jelly, propolis, and bee pollen are potential sources of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are important for mental health (preventing specific neurological disorders and reducing stress) and improving our immune responses.
Antioxidants assist our bodies in coping with the free radicals which develop due to normal metabolic activity and stress.
Along with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believe that royal jelly may also assist in regulating blood sugar levels by allowing our bodies to return to homeostasis. By improving the overall functioning of our bodies (reducing oxidative stress), royal jelly allows our bodies to become more sensitive to insulin and other compounds in our blood.
Studies on rats indicate this effect of royal jelly; however, more research is required to determine the effectiveness on human blood sugar uptake/reduction.
Researchers believe that royal jelly may reduce the likelihood of heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol levels. Tests on animals and humans suggest that this bee product might contain proteins that assist in cholesterol reduction.
In studies on humans and rabbits, researchers discovered a total cholesterol reduction of 11% in humans and 28% in rabbits. After consuming royal jelly for the duration of the experiment, there was also a reduced amount of “bad” cholesterol, 4% in humans and 23% in rabbits.
However, further investigation is critical, as another study discovered no significant difference between royal jelly and placebo in reducing cholesterol.
Aside from potentially reducing cholesterol in humans (and animals), royal jelly may also help regulate blood pressure.
Scientists believe that certain proteins in royal jelly relax the smooth muscles found in arteries and veins, lowering blood pressure.
Although royal jelly seems pretty good in terms of the benefits it provides, and many claims that it is quite miraculous, there are some downsides to royal jelly. The most prominent shortcoming is that there is currently not enough evidence to prove it is effective, and many studies seem to provide contradicting evidence.
Another drawback of royal jelly is that it is limited in supply (bees don’t store it), directly influencing the cost.
Beekeepers need to invest additional time and energy into preparing and harvesting royal jelly hives, and a great deal of expertise is required.
Although royal jelly is usually safe to use daily up to 1000 mg, there are still some side effects.
The Side Effects Of Royal Jelly
As royal jelly is a natural product, there are certain side effects due to the composition of the jelly; these side effects include:
- The most prominent side effect of eating royal jelly is an allergic reaction. These allergies manifest in various forms, ranging from mild (nasal congestion) to severe symptoms (anaphylaxis).
These reactions are either related to the royal jelly itself or bee and flower pollen present in the jelly. People allergic to bee stings, honey, or pollen are at the greatest risk.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction include asthma, anaphylaxis, and skin reactions at the application site.
- Aside from allergies, royal jelly may also contain pesticides (gathered as the bee collected pollen and nectar). These pesticides could have detrimental effects on the person using the royal jelly (including allergic reactions).
- Royal jelly reduces the rate of blood clotting (i.e., it thins your blood causing you to bleed more and clot slower). If you need to undergo surgery, you’ll need to cease using royal jelly two weeks before the operation.
- Royal jelly may have interacting effects when taken/used with other medication. For example, royal jelly taken with blood thinner medication may further decrease blood clotting. This reduced blood clotting might lead to profuse bleeding and bruising.
Bees do not store royal jelly as they do honey; instead, bees secrete it and use the jelly immediately unless they feed a queen larva.
Therefore, beekeepers can only actively harvest royal jelly during “queen rearing.“ While growing new queens from larvae, workers fill the cell with an overabundance of royal jelly. This jelly intends to feed the developing queen for four to five days, after which the workers will feed her directly.
A beekeeper harvests the “surplus” royal jelly from the queen larval cell during this time. The challenge is knowing when a new queen is about to be reared.
You will usually find royal jelly in raw or processed forms at many health shops, alternative medicine shops, drugstores, and upmarket grocery stores. Royal jelly is available in a range of products, including:
- Royal jelly is often converted into powder, paste, liquid, tablet, or gel-capsule form for easy consumption.
Although there are no quintessential guidelines for the amount you should take, researchers estimate roughly between 0.01 and 0.2 ounces (300 and 6 000 mg). Although, it is probably wise to not ingest more than 0.04 ounces (1 000 mg) if you plan to take royal jelly daily.
- Many companies manufacture royal jelly in the form of supplements. These supplements usually contain freeze-dried royal jelly that is convenient to store and easy to use.
- Royal jelly is often used to make creams, and skincare products are applied topically.
The answer to whether we should or should harvest and use royal jelly has scientific and moral facets.
From a scientific perspective, too little information currently exists on royal jelly to say if it can provide all of the claims people ascribe to it. Although preliminary experiments and testing seem to yield positive results, more tests are required.
Researchers conducted most of these tests on rats and test tubes or small human sample groups. To truly understand how royal jelly works and what it is capable of, more rigorous testing is required.
Although many make bold claims about royal jelly’s effectiveness, there is unfortunately little in the line of hard evidence to back up said claims.
From a moral perspective, beekeepers harvest royal jelly from newly developing queens. Although this may seem harsh or even cruel, it is not so different from most other forms of farming (milking cows, meat, harvesting fruit, etc.).
Beekeepers select particular hives to produce royal jelly and place larger queen cells inside the hive. Worker bees fill these cells with the jelly in preparation for the queen larvae. After four days, beekeepers remove the larvae and harvest the royal jelly.
As a value-added product, royal jelly has commercial value. For that fact alone, it is worth farming royal jelly hives; because the increased demand results in more bees and beekeeping. More bees result in greater pollination, and greater pollination means we survive for longer.
Royal jelly adds additional value to keeping bees.
Royal jelly is a milk-white, jelly-like substance that nurse honey bees feed to the queen and to developing larvae. In the hive, it is a critical food source and helps bees to rear future queens. Humans have, however, realized that royal jelly might provide benefits for us as well, especially for health and cosmetics. Therefore, beekeepers farm-specific hives to produce royal jelly to supply the market. Using royal jelly has some side effects and risks, but the value-added benefits mean bees and beekeeping remain with us for longer.