Royal jelly might sound like something served in the courts of kings and queens. That assumption is partly true, but the queen in question is a honeybee.

The queen bee is larger and lives longer than the worker bees and is the only member of the colony capable of reproducing. Worker bees devote their lives to nurturing the queen and the royal larvae when she dies. The larvae are fed on a sticky, nutrient-rich substance produced by the worker bees. This substance is royal jelly.

Background

Royal jelly contains a complex mixture of proteins, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. The B vitamins are found in the largest quantity, followed closely by an assortment of 20 different amino acids, calcium, zinc, iron and manganese.1

A detailed breakdown of the constituents of royal jelly reveals lipids (3%-7%), carbohydrates (10%-12%), proteins (12%-15%), water (60%-70%) and traces of minerals and vitamins.2 Of particular medical interest is the presence of gamma globulin, one of a group of specific proteins studied for their immune-modulating potential and pro-estrogenic compounds.1

Since the beehive has only one queen, the supply of royal jelly is much lower than that of honey. Honey is used as food for the worker bees, of which there are thousands, but royal jelly is reserved for those select few larvae that will be fed to become queens. A large, healthy hive of honeybees will produce about 500 g of royal jelly in a six-month period.2

Science

Due to its rich content of antioxidants, proteins and other nutrients, royal jelly is reportedly good for whatever ails you. It is specifically recommended for treatment of hypertension, hyperlipidemia and inflammation, and is being studied for a possible anti-tumor effect as well as a treatment for male infertility.3

In a small trial, patients were assigned to the royal jelly intervention or placebo. Treatment-group participants were given 6 g daily of royal jelly formulation for four weeks. At the end of the trial, the treatment group’s total cholesterol level was reduced 6%, and LDL was reduced more than 9%.4

Egyptian researchers investigated the effect of royal jelly on conception rates among couples with known male asthenozoospermia. In this study, 99 couples known to be affected by the condition were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The women in the treatment group were instructed to use a royal jelly product intravaginally during intercourse, and the non-treatment couples were treated with standard intrauterine insemination (IUI). At the end of three monitored cycles, the successful conception rate of the treatment group was 8.1% compared with only 2.6% of the IUI couples.5 The researchers are still studying the mechanism of action in this usage beyond the nutrition-dense composition of royal jelly.

The growth and development of bone cells is another area of focus for royal jelly research. Scientists monitored tibial bone density in ovariectomized rats for seven weeks until clinical measurements indicated significant loss of bone density. At this point, the treatment group was given a royal jelly supplement and the active control group was given a 17 beta-estradiol treatment.

At the end of treatment, the active control group had 100% reversal of tibial bone loss, and the royal jelly group showed 85% bone recovery. Enhanced gastric absorption of calcium was found in this and other studies and could account for a synergistic effect on bone maintenance.6

Safety, interactions

Due to the direct correlation of indigenous pollens and bee venom, there have been severe and even fatal incidents of asthmatic exacerbations and anaphylaxis subsequent to use of royal jelly.1 Anyone with even a remote history of atopy should use this product with extreme caution.

Because of royal jelly’s weak but notable estrogenic action, women with a history of breast cancer should avoid its use.3 Royal jelly has not been thoroughly studied in women who are pregnant or nursing or in young children, so use by these patients is not recommended.3

Reported side effects include weight gain, facial rash and GI discomfort.7 The most notable drug interaction is with warfarin (Coumadin). Royal jelly potentiates the action of warfarin, thereby increasing the risk for unintentional bleeding.3

Cost, dose, and how supplied

Royal jelly is usually supplied in capsule form, with the recommended daily dose ranging from 100 mg to 200 mg orally once or twice daily.8 Costs vary, but are typically $20 for a 30-day supply.

Summary

Although a number of nutritive entities in royal jelly seem exciting for dealing with human illnesses and ailments, the risk of allergic response is serious and unpredictable. Until further human clinical trials verify the utility and safety of this product, clinicians should exercise extreme caution before recommending its use to patients.

References

1. Fetrow CW, Avila JR. Professional’s Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines. Springhouse, Pa.: Springhouse Corp.;1999:624-625.

2. Suzuki KM, Isohama Y, Maruyama H, et al. Estrogenic activities of fatty acids and a sterol isolated from royal jelly. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008;5:295-302. 

3. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Royal jelly.

4. Guo H, Saiga A, Sato M, et al. Royal jelly supplementation improves lipoprotein metabolism in humans. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2007;53:345-348.

5. Abdelhafiz AT, Muhamad JA. Midcycle pericoital intra­vaginal bee honey and royal jelly for male factor infertility. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2008;101:146-149.

6. Hidaka S, Okamoto Y, Uchiyama S et al. Royal jelly prevents osteoporosis in rats: beneficial effects in ovariectomy model and in bone tissue culture model. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3:339-348.

7. Georgiev DB, Metka M, Huber JC et al. Effects of an herbal medication containing bee products on menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular risk markers: results of a pilot open-uncontrolled trial. MedGenMed. 2004;6:46. 

8. University of Michigan Health System. Royal jelly.

All electronic documents accessed October 3, 2011.