World of Honey

Royal Jelly

I want to give you a round-up on this page of the facts and myths about royal jelly, so that you can make your own mind up about its value.

What Exactly IS Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly cells.  Photo by Waugsberg, Wikimedia.

Royal jelly cells. Photo by Waugsberg, Wikimedia.

It’s a special food used by bees to feed their young, known as larvae.  Worker bees (who are all female) secrete a chemical from glands in their heads.  This is mixed with digested pollen and honey and the result is royal jelly which is fed to the young from the mouths of a few young worker bees who play the role of “nurses” in the hive.  All young bee larvae are fed on royal jelly and nothing else for the first two or three days of their lives.  After that, all of the larvae except the future queen get less and less royal jelly in their diets and after a while none at all; instead they are fed on a mixture of honey and pollen.  But the larvae chosen to be queens, who start life identical in every way to the worker larvae, continue to get only royal jelly to eat, and have to put up with this monotonous diet for the whole of their time as a larva (just over a week!).  It is only the prolonged feeding on this special substance that causes the bee to become a queen rather than a mere worker, and to live for up to six years compared to the worker’s lifespan of just six summer weeks.

Raw royal jelly is thick and creamy, and is sometimes called “bees’ milk”.  It is composed mainly of water, but is also rich in protein, sugars, B vitamins and a little vitamin C.  It also contains trace minerals and other components that are antibacterial and antibiotic.  Contrary to what is often claimed, it has no vitamins A, D or E.

Over time, the jelly is built up into reserves in the cells where the future queen bees live, faster than they can eat it.  This is what has made human collection possible.  means that people can collect it before it gets eaten by the infant queens.  A good beehive should produce about 500g of royal jelly in a season, but each queen cell can only produce about 250 – 500mg, and collecting it can be a labour-intensive process.  For collection to be commercially viable, a hive has to have enough young queen cells, so artificial queen cells attached to a special frame are placed in the hive.  Each cell contains a bee larva, and the bees, on recognising that the cells are super-size queen cells, then go about filling them with royal jelly.  After three days, the frame is removed from the hive and the royal jelly is sucked from the cells.  The queen larvae are often removed from the cells and killed, but it does not have to be so.  It is possible to suck out only part of the royal jelly and let the larvae live on.

After collection, the royal jelly is processed into tablets, capsules or liquid for human consumption.

Why is there so much “Buzz” around Royal Jelly?

This product, like other bee hive products, has been used by humans in one way or another for literally thousands of years.  Its benefits are still not well understood today.  First of all, I would like to list a few of the claimed health benefits that you can find all over the internet, but have yet to be proven:

Claimed but Unproven Benefits of Royal Jelly

  • Capable of rejuvenating human beings
  • Increases appetite and energy levels
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Cures kidney disease
  • Improves sexual performance
  • Cures liver disease
  • Cures asthma
  • Prevents Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis

Well, that’s quite a list of claims!  Who knows, in time some or all of them may be proven scientifically.  Talking of which, let’s now return to planet earth and look at some hard evidence of what royal jelly really can do, based on clinical studies:

Benefits of Royal Jelly that are Backed by Evidence

The fascination with royal jelly and its dramatic effects on the growth and lifespan of the queen bee has led to many scientific studies to find out whether any of its properties really can benefit human beings.  These are some of the more significant findings to date:

Antibiotic: As far back as 1959 the journal “Science” reported a study by Louisiana State University noting royal jelly’s antibiotic action on many fungae and bacteria.

Cancer: A paper by T Tamura and others, published in 1987 by the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan, reported that the product reduced slow-growing cancer tumours in mice.

Antibacterial: In 1990, the Biochemical Research Laboratory of the Morinaga Milk Industry Company in Kanagawa, Japan isolated a powerful antibacterial protein from royal jelly, that they named “royalisin”.

Anti-inflammatory: A 1990 study on rats by the Nihon University School of Dentistry in Matsudo, Japan found royal jelly to be anti-inflammatory, improving the healing process in wounds.  (Note that honey too has long been known for its value in wound dressing, and in 2008 the British Journal of Community Nursing confirmed that it should be considered as an option for dressing chronic wounds – see the health benefits of honey for good information.)

Cholesterol: A study by J Vittek of the New York Medical College reported in the journal Experientia in 1995 stated that royal jelly decreased total serum cholesterol levels in rats and rabbits by about 14%.

Osteoporosis: Tests on rats in 2006 by the Fukuoka College of Health Sciences in Japan found evidence that royal jelly improves the absorption of calcium and may therefore help prevent osteoporosis.

So there seems to be evidence that royal jelly could indeed do you some good.  You also need to be aware that for a small number of people, this substance could do some harm:

Possible side-effects

If you are thinking of taking royal jelly, you first need to know that there is a chance it could harm you if you happen to be allergic to any of its components.  For example, if the jelly you take happens to contain pollen that you are allergic to, you may have some sort of allergic reaction.

If you have a tendency to suffer from other common allergies, there is evidence that you are more likely to get some sort of allergic reaction to royal jelly according to a 1997 study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  The symptoms are likely to be mild, such as as runny nose, but in a very small number of severe cases there could be an asthma attack or anaphylactic shock.

To test whether you are allergic, you can arrange for one of the widely available skin allergy tests or blood tests which will show any allergy not only to bee products but to many others.

It is also possible that jelly could have become contaminated because the bees fed on contaminated flowers or because contamination was introduced during production.  Residues of contaminants have previously been found in some inferior royal jelly products.

Although the risks are small, if you are in any doubt as to whether you should use this substance or any other health supplement for that matter, please consult your physician before doing so.

Now you can decide for yourself

The bottom line is that royal jelly has been used by humans for thousands of years.  We know there could be some side-effects, we know there could be some benefits – and we know that there is still a lot we don’t know about this complex substance.  I hope you now have some useful, balanced information that will help you to decide for yourself whether or not to give it a try.

If you decide to try royal jelly, you have a wide choice of products from many companies in many countries.  It’s worth knowing that the higher quality products are often described as fresh, raw or organic – but be careful because this is no guarantee of quality and there are unfortunately some inferior products out there.  My advice is to ignore the hype and look for reputable suppliers to do business with – just as you would when buying anything else.

Oh – and one more thing.  Don’t confuse this natural product with “Royal Jello” – this is a  kind of jello (or jelly if you are in the UK) produced under the “Royal” brand!