What is royal jelly?

Originally Published: August 9, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 17, 2008
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Hi Alice,

Could you please tell me what royal jelly is? What are the benefits and side effects of taking it?

Thanks! Polly

Dear Polly,

Royal jelly is the food of queens — not human monarchs, but queen bees. It's actually a substance secreted from the glands in the heads of worker bees that's fed to bee larvae. After a few days, the larvae that have potential to develop into queens continue to be fed this nectar. Since queen bees are much bigger, live longer, and are more fertile than all the other bees, this potion is believed by some to impart mystical qualities. In reality, royal jelly is comprised of 60 to 70 percent water, 12 to 15 percent protein, 10 to 16 percent sugars, and 3 to 6 percent fats, with vitamins, salts, and free amino acids making up the rest.

People who are allergic to bees and honey and those who have asthma can face real dangers if they take royal jelly. Reactions ranging from bronchial spasms, skin irritations, and asthma attacks, to more severe anaphylactic shock, and even death, have been reported from its ingestion. As with many supplements, pregnant and breastfeeding women and small children should refrain from using royal jelly. To be on the safe side, anyone with a compromised immune system should also steer clear.

So, what's all the buzz about royal jelly? This supplement has been taken for a host of ailments. In addition to its use as a general health tonic, people take royal jelly to:

  • enhance immunity
  • prevent arthritis and multiple sclerosis
  • slow the signs of aging
  • stimulate hair growth
  • improve sexual performance
  • reduce symptoms of menopause
  • heal bone fractures
  • lower cholesterol
  • alleviate cardiovascular ailments
  • remedy liver disease, pancreatitis, insomnia, fatigue, ulcers, and digestive and skin disorders

Whew. What a list! Unfortunately, good evidence does not exist for any of these purported health benefits. Although studies with rabbits and rats showed a reduction in their cholesterol levels, and some human trials found a lowering of the bad LDL cholesterol levels, these reports have not been published, so it is impossible to evaluate their validity. In general, try talking with your health care provider about any supplements or homeopathic remedies you're considering — that way, you can be sure you're getting your money's worth.

Alice