The hype about royal jelly – fact and myths

Besides honey, bees give us many other amazing products such as beeswax, pollen, propolis and also «royal jelly». Because royal jelly is fed to honeybee larvae destined to become a queen, the nutrient-rich royal jelly is viewed as superfood and not just for bees. But what is this creamy white substance exactly and is it really beneficial for humans?

What is royal jelly?

Royal jelly is a whitish nutrient rich liquid which is fed to all larvae in the honeybee colony. After three days the diet of larvae which are destined to become worker bees or drones is changed to pollen and nectar. Only the few larvae destined to become a queen bee are raised on a diet which exclusively consists of royal jelly.

The development of an egg into a honeybee worker. Note the larvae swimming in royal jelly at 0.06 sec.

Royal jelly is produced by worker bees who secrete the substance from glands located in their heads. The substance consists mainly of water, but also contains a lot of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and mineral salts[1].

Royal jelly – the maker of queen bees?

A worker bee and a queen are genetically identical, so it is their diet which determines whether a bee develops into a worker or a queen. Compared to workers bees, a queen can live 40 times longer, is larger and can reproduce. This sparked the idea that a diet of royal jelly has to be superior.

As of today, the exact influence of royal jelly on the bees development remains a bit of a mystery. Some research suggest that instead of royal jelly, it is the absence of other food sources like pollen, which trigger queen development [2].

A queen bee larvae covered in royal jelly
A queen bee larvae covered in royal jelly

Human benefits

Building on the assumption that royal jelly is a superior food source. Many beneficial properties has been ascribed to royal jelly. The use of royal jelly by humans goes back a long way, and used by royals and high ranking members in society. In ancient Greece, it was believed that royal jelly was on the menu of the gods and partly responsible for their immortality. Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra used royal jelly as one of her personal beauty secrets [1]. A more recent example is the British Monarchy, as Queen Elizabeth uses it to fight fatigue [3].

Royal jelly is sold in various forms, such as a gel-like substance or freeze-dried powder capsules.
Royal jelly is sold in various forms, such as a gel-like substance or freeze-dried powder capsules.

However, it is hard to determine what, to what extent and in which form, royal jelly be beneficial for human purposes. When delving into the actual studies used to explain health or cosmetic benefits, one finds different studies and not all studies are coducted with humans, but on animals[4]. This lack on cincinving studies does not mean that all the buzz around royal jelly is based on thin air. It simply shows that we often do not know enough about this mysterious substance to use it effectively (in what dosage and in what form). Numerous promising studies are being conducted and royal jelly can give clues how to develop new medicines for diseases such as alzheimer or heart failure and more[5].

All in all, royal jelly remains a mysterious substance and its effects on bees and humans are still being understood. This fascinating bee product is an perfect example of how nature can inspire humans and lead to new and promosing research avenues. However, at the moment, the benefits of consuming royal jelly are uncertain.

Literature

[1] Fratini, F., Cilia, G., Mancini, S., & Felicioli, A. (2016). Royal Jelly: An ancient remedy with remarkable antibacterial properties. Microbiological research, 192, 130-141.

[2] Mao, W., Schuler, M. A., & Berenbaum, M. R. (2015). A dietary phytochemical alters caste-associated gene expression in honey bees. Science advances, 1 (7).

[3] Kiwi Royal. (2019, May 19). What Is Royal Jelly? Retrieved from: https://www.kiwiroyal.co.nz/blog/health/what-is-royal-jelly/

[4] Examine.com (2019, 15 Nov). Royal Jelly. https://examine.com/supplements/royal-jelly/

[5] Sample, I. (2018 December 4). Royal jelly research could propel cure for Alzheimer’s, claim scientists. The guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/04/royal-jelly-research-could-propel-cure-for-alzheimers-claim-scientists


Vatorex, Felix Poelsma
18 March, 2020
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