The use of bee pollen as a nutritional supplement is far from new. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians were popping the tiny, mustard-colored granules well before pop culture breathed health food stores and smoothie shops to life. But what is it about bee pollen -- a funky, difficult to obtain food - that's kept it in favor among humans for all these (thousands of) years?
Well, some sources say it's useful in treating sexual dysfunction, infertility, chronic fatigue, obesity, allergies, infection, prostate disease, chronic illness, asthma and immunodeficiency. The FDA hasn't approved apitherapy, the use of honeybee products as health remedies, for anything at all, but skeptics say the agency is dragging its feet out of self interest; there's no money to be made in natural healing.
Florida beekeeper David Rukin, proprietor of BuzznBee Farms, Inc., explains what bee pollen is and how it functions as a nutritional supplement.
"Bee pollen is the protein source for the insect," Rukin explains. "It's plant material protein. It has all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes that any animal needs." Potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, vitamins C, E, and B-6 are among the nutrients commonly found in pollen, but the exact nutritional values will vary depending on the environment from which the pollen is collected. Two tablespoons of pollen contain about 100 calories and 7 grams of protein.
"There's only two kinds of cells on planet earth: plant or animal cells," Rukin says. "Since we're human, we're made up of animal cells. One way that the health can be determined of any animal is on the cellular level. If you were to take any animal cells and lay them out in a row cell by cell, they would all be identical except for the DNA that says this one is a rhinoceros, a fish, a bee or a human. If a scientist wanted to keep them all alive in a lab, he or she would feed them all identically.
"The problem with humans is that they've got too many options of things to eat, because there are too many marketers out there telling us what to eat. You have to get Coca Cola out of your mind before you can even think about eating well."
At 58 years old, Rukin says he could outwork and outrun anyone, all the way down to 12 years of age. He attributes his remarkable health largely to his bee product-rich diet and active lifestyle.
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"A honey bee only eats three things and they give it everything it needs: honey, pollen, and water," he says. "Those three things have all the building blocks the bee needs, and will increase the positive physiology of any creature. Animals need protein, carbohydrates and water. Bee pollen is the protein, honey is the carbohydrates. The only other thing humans would need is roughage, like celery. If you wanted a vitamin, you'd be better off eating pollen than any vitamin out there.
Rukin explains that pollen's high nutrient content is mainly a result of honeybees' painstaking efforts to choose the very best pollen granules from their local flowers.
"The insect flies from flower to flower," he begins. "Now, there are multiple worlds out there. Most people live in mammal world. I live in mammal and insect world. When the insect is flying from flower to flower, it's the same as when you or I is at the produce stand. They are choosing the very highest quality of pollen that the flower has to offer. They're not flying around with a five pound bucket in one hand and a scoop in the other. They're collecting pollen by the molecule. It's the pre-selection of a food source or a protein source that gives a very high degree of quality."
After the insect selects the pollen, Rukin explains, it collects the tiny granules with its mouth and mandibles and mixes them with propolis, a resin-like substance bees collect from tree buds or other plant sources. This makes the pollen into a sticky little ball the animal can affix to its carrying spot on its leg. It can then go onto another flower and repeat the process all over again. When it returns to the hive, it has collected a ball of pollen about the size of a head of a pin, which it deposits into one of its honeycomb cells, where Rukin and other beekeepers can collect it and package it for human consumption.
For more on David Rukin and his bee products, check out his company website.