AMAZING BENEFITS YOU MAY NOT ‘BEE’ AWARE OF Honey bees, or apis mellifera, have been helping humans since the dawn of time. They’ve not only provided us with a long-standing source of honey and wax but have played an integral part in helping our agricultural growth and in sustaining our ecosystem. Honey has been a cornerstone to most pantry shelves as a natural food sweetener or agent to soothe a sore throat. But as it turns out, our little buzzing friends and the delicious liquid they provide us are even more helpful to our health than we once thought. Modern research has discovered many bee byproducts have proven benefits on everything from our gut microbiome to our immune system, and maybe even our fertility.
Honey Honey has been used for millennia as a sweet treat and natural sweetener. But the consumption of honey has benefits beyond its tasty profile. Because of its potent antimicrobial properties, certain types of honey, like manuka, have been used to treat wounds, prevent and heal gastric ulcers, and minimize digestive disruptions caused by inflammatory bowel disorders. Honey is nature’s sweet superfood, containing over 180 amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other chemicals, including fructooligosaccharides – which act as prebiotics. Prebiotics can help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. Some recent studies have demonstrated that honey may help improve your intestinal health by acting as a source of prebiotics to dramatically enhance the growth of beneficial bifido and lactobacilli colonic flora, as well as inhibit the harmful effects of mycotoxins (mycotoxins are toxic substances released by moulds and bacteria that have toxic impacts on our digest tract, kidneys, and other end organs) (1). Substituting honey for processed sugar seems to be a favourable alternative. Propolis Propolis, or ‘bee glue’, is a resinous substance that bees produce to protect and sterilize their hives. Propolis is a unique blend of sap from trees or resin from buds, beeswax, and bee saliva. Almost all honey contains at least trace amounts of propolis. According to recent research, propolis has more than 300 compounds, including polyphenols and micronutrients. On their own, many of the properties of propolis have potent antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antifungal properties; however, some studies are demonstrating that the unique nature of propolis has incredible health benefits for the gut biome (2). Propolis has been demonstrated to:
Curb the growth of pathogenic yeasts
Manage and reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis (3)
Stabilize microbial profiles and reduce endotoxin transport
Propolis tinctures also make for a wonderful wound care item, preventing infection and helping to speed the rate of healing. Careful - it stings (pun intended)! Bee Pollen Bee pollen is a mixture of pollen from plants, bee saliva, and nectar that bees use to feed the colony. Bee pollen contains roughly 250 compounds that serve to provide important nutrients to the colony. This bee superfood -- packed with vitamins B, C, and E as well as trace minerals, amino acids, phytochemicals, and lipids -- has incredible nutritive and digestive benefits for humans, too. A range of studies have demonstrated the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulation, and pain-mediating effects of bee pollen. It has more recently also been shown to dramatically enhance the growth of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium animalis spp. lactis – all of which are important bacteria in our gut for assistance in immune health, digestion of carbohydrates, and prevention of infection (4).
Royal Jelly Bees use royal jelly to nourish larvae and create new queens. It is packed with vital proteins, lipids, and other nutrients – although its exact chemical composition remains a bit of a mystery. For thousands of years, humans have used royal jelly for everything from beauty treatments to wound care. More recently, studies are showing some promising results when it comes to using royal jelly for improving the gut biome. Royal jelly has been demonstrated to promote the growth of healthy bacteria all while suppressing the growth of pathogens. Additionally, in another study, over several months, participants showed improved glucose tolerance and mental health (5). Amongst digestive benefits, preliminary studies in immature rats have shown that the use of royal jelly results in a significant rise in ovarian production in estradiol levels, as well as beneficial effects on ovarian follicle growth and development. It’s been deemed that royal can potentially be considered as a treatment to promote fertility (but further studies in humans are necessary) (6). How to choose the right honey First off – don't start on a grocery store shelf! Most store-bought honey is pasteurized, which means it's heated to a certain temperature to sterilize the product, resulting in denaturing of the proteins and enzymes that give it its numerous health benefits. You may argue that pasteurized honey becomes just another source of sugar. Note: unpasteurized foods should always be avoided if you’re pregnant, and should not be given to children under 1 year of age. Purity is also key if you’re seeking the added health benefits of honey. With the large demand for this tasty golden liquid, several imported honey products are cut with high fructose corn syrup, and are in fact not honey at all! Instead, seek out local apiaries using conscious and sustainable ways to maintain their bees. And don’t get hung up on ‘organic’. You can’t truly control where bees collect their pollen, so unless the farmer is in a rural area that's surrounded by only organic crops, this label is just a marketing tactic. Also, ask your beekeeper if they use their bees for pollinating. Some farmers make most of their income from transporting their bees between crops for pollination, and the honey they produce is just an afterthought. This exposes the hives (and ultimately your honey) to an increased risk of infection (and more antibiotic use) as well as more pesticides and herbicides. Instead, look for ‘wildflower’ and ‘unpasteurized’ on the labels, and ask the right questions – ensuring that your beekeeper is using best practices to sustain their hives means we’ll minimize the footprint we leave on the important role honey bees provide to our ecosystem.
We source ours from a local & family-owned wildflower apiary in Balsam Lake, known as Arnold’s Apiary, or @arnoldsapiary. They use traditional harvesting techniques that purify but don't pasteurize out all the health benefits of this tasty golden liquid, and ensure they’re using sustainable systems to keep their hives thriving after harvest and through the winters. The honey is always flavourful, and changes profiles from spring to fall, depending on what’s in bloom!
Visiting the hives at Arnold's ApiaryThe Bee Masters hard at work
Lastly, remember that honey is still a concentrated source of glucose, and while it provides superior benefits above refined sugar, moderation is key! If you are interested in learning more about digestive health, ways to improve your microbiome, or for general health guidance, please feel free to schedule an appointment online with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto, or by calling the clinic at 647-351-7282 today!