The Health Benefits of Royal Jelly

This bee-derived supplement may fight diabetes, PMS, and hypertension

Royal jelly in a jar

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Royal jelly is a milk-like substance secreted by bees that provides nutrition to developing larvae as well as the queen bee. Royal jelly is widely sold as a dietary supplement and used in apitherapy (a form of alternative medicine using bee products, including bee pollen and venom).

Alternative practitioners will often use royal jelly to boost the immune system and help fight the effects of aging. Others believe that it can treat or prevent a wide range of diseases and even promote fertility.

Despite its purported benefits, royal jelly has been known to allergic reactions in some. Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up action against manufacturers who make false claims about royal jelly's health benefits.

Also Known As

Health Benefits

Royal jelly is comprised mainly of water, sugar, fatty acids, and several unique proteins, one of which is called royalactin.

Many of the purported health benefits of royal jelly are based on royalactin's effect on developing larvae. When a queen bee dies, the worker bees will feed high quantities of royal jelly to a selected female larva, the consumption of which alters the insect's DNA and turns it into a queen.

The bee-derived proteins, along with several antioxidants and antibacterial compounds, are believed to afford health benefits in humans. Among some of the conditions royal jelly is said to treat are:

Because royal jelly gives rise to queen bees, proponents claim that eating royal jelly can even help with fertility. Royal jelly may even slow the aging process by eliminating free radicals or fight infections by bolstering the immune system.

Despite these claims, both the FDA and European Health Safety Authority (EHSA) have concluded that there is no evidence of any such benefit and have discouraged the sale and consumption of royal jelly products.

That is not to say that evidence is altogether lacking or that some of the studies haven't shown promise. Here are just a few worth considering:

Diabetes

Royal jelly may regulate blood sugar, suggests a 2016 study in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes. According to the research, 50 people with type 2 diabetes were given either a placebo or 1,000 milligrams (mg) of royal jelly three times daily. By the end of the eight-week trial, the group provided royal jelly had a significant reduction in their blood glucose, while those given the placebo had a slight increase.

Despite the positive results, a 2019 review in the World Journal of Diabetes found only a minimal benefit to royal jelly use. Based on an evaluation of 18 clinical studies, the researchers concluded that the quality of evidence supporting the use of royal jelly in diabetes was low to very low.

High Cholesterol

Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) is a concerning disorder linked to atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"), heart attack, and stroke.

In a small study published in Gynecological Endocrinology, 36 postmenopausal women given 150 mg of royal jelly daily experienced a 7.7% increase in "good" HDL cholesterol as well as 4.1% decrease in "bad" LDL cholesterol and a 3.1% drop in total cholesterol.

Similar results were achieved in a 2017 study in Pharmaceutical Biology in which 40 adults with mild hypercholesterolemia were given either a placebo or 350 mg of royal jelly daily. After three months, LDL and total cholesterol levels were reduced in the royal jelly group.

On the flip side, there were no changes in HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, body weight, waist size, or body fat compared to the placebo group. Further research is needed to explain the contraindications.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Preliminary research suggests that royal jelly may help reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In a2014 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 110 female university students with PMS were given either 1,000 mg of royal jelly or a placebo. Treatment started on the first day of menstruation and continuing through two menstrual cycles.

After two cycles, women in the royal jelly group had more than a 50% reduction in their PMS symptom score, while women in the placebo group had less than a 5% decrease.

Further research is needed to confirm the results and better determine the exact mechanism of action of royal jelly.

Possible Side Effects

Despite the FDA's concerns, royal jelly is generally considered safe and well-tolerated when used appropriately. Studies have shown that royal jelly may be taken in daily doses of up to 1,000 mg for three months with no notable side effect.

With that said, royal jelly has been known to cause allergic reactions in some, ranging from mild nasal symptoms to life-threatening anaphylaxis. This may be in response to royal jelly itself or to other commonly added ingredients, including bee pollen and flower pollen.

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you experience shortness of breath, wheezing, hives, rapid heart rate, dizziness, or the swelling of the face, throat, or tongue after consuming royal jelly.

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to fainting, shock, coma, respiratory or heart failure, and death.

Interactions

Royal jelly may slow blood clotting and intensify the effects of blood thinners like warfarin, leading to easy bruising and bleeding. If you use royal jelly on an ongoing basis, be sure to stop treatment two weeks before a scheduled surgery to prevent excessive bleeding.

Royal jelly may also interact with antihypertensive drugs used to treat high blood pressure, causing an abnormal drop in blood pressure (hypotension). To avoid interactions, advise your doctor if you are planning to use royal jelly and include a list of all of the other drugs you are taking, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult with your OB/GYN before taking royal jelly supplements. 

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Royal jelly can be sourced online or found in drugstores, health food stores, and certain higher-end grocery stores. Royal jelly comes in a variety of preparations, including tablets, gel caps, liquids, pastes, and unprocessed raw jelly.

Supplements

Royal jelly supplements are by far the easiest form to use and dose. The tablets and soft gels are both made with lyophilized (freeze-dried) royal jelly and can be safely stored at room temperature.

When buying royal jelly supplements, opt for brands that have been voluntarily tested by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Certification does not mean that the product is effective but that it simply contains the ingredients listed on the product label.

Always read the product label to see what other ingredients are included. If you don't know what an ingredient is, ask your pharmacist or doctor. For added quality and safety, choose an organic brand over a non-organic one.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, only buy vegan-friendly gel caps to avoid animal-based gelatins.

Other Preparations

Unprocessed royal jelly is usually packaged in small, dark glass bottles in doses ranging from 250 mg to 500 mg. Royal jelly can be quite bitter and is often mixed with honey to improve the taste. The main disadvantage of unprocessed royal jelly is that it does not keep well, lasting for only two weeks in a refrigerator or a few months in the freezer. It is also quite expensive.

Royal jelly liquid and paste are more shelf-stable but often include stabilizers and preservatives to prolong their shelf life. These can generally be stored for up to six months in the refrigerator or up to three years in the freezer.

If you decide to freeze royal jelly, divide it into smaller-sized portions. Once defrosted, royal jelly should never be refrozen.

When exposed to air, royal jelly can turn from a creamy yellow to a darker brown. Over time, the gelatinous texture can also become dense and harder to spoon. Ultimately, the color, texture, and taste is an indication of royal jelly's freshness.

Never use royal jelly beyond its expiration date or if it smells funny and develops a rotten taste.

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bee Products J L. Silver Spring, Maryland; November 14, 2016.

  2. European Health Safety Authority. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to: anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins (ID 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791); sodium alginate and ulva (ID 1873); vitamins, minerals, trace elements and standardised ginseng G115 extract (ID 8, 1673, 1674); vitamins, minerals, lysine and/or arginine and/or taurine (ID 6, 1676, 1677); plant‐based preparation for use in beverages (ID 4210, 4211); Carica papaya L. (ID 2007); “fish protein” (ID 651); acidic water‐based, non‐alcoholic flavoured beverages containing calcium in the range of 0.3 to 0.8 mol per mol of acid with a pH not lower than 3.7 (ID 1170); royal jelly (ID 1225, 1226, 1227, 1228, 1230, 1231, 1326, 1328, 1329, 1982, 4696, 4697); foods low in cholesterol (ID 624); and foods low in trans‐fatty acids (ID 672, 4333) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal. 2011;9(4):2083. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2083.

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