The world’s bees are dying from pesticides, fungicides, malnutrition and pollution. Recently seventy-five per cent of the honey on US supermarket shelves was found to have been artificially produced in China. So, just how enthusiastic should we get about today’s bee products?
When Food Safety News revealed that much of the sweet substance sold as honey contained no microscopic particles of pollen at all but had plenty of artificial sweetners in it and even heavy metals, the notion that honey is a raw natural product that consumers could have confidence in, flew out of the window.
However, the fact that there is a lot of junk around shouldn’t blind us to the proven benefits of royal jelly, propolis, honey and bee venom. It should just make us extremely vigilant about where we buy our bee products from. Honey bees have been dubbed the master chemists of the animal kingdom and 8000-year-old cave paintings depict ancient man risking stings in their quest to harvest precious substances from hives.
There have been many claims made for the magical properties of royal jelly, a rich creamy substance used for feeding bee larvae. Skin care products and dietary supplements full of royal jelly abound but until recently there were few convincing clinical studies. However, in 2012 a Japanese study at the Gifu University Graduate School of Medicine discovered that there was a measurable link between consumption of royal jelly and improved mental health. This revelation is currently being further researched.
In 2013 the US journal Antiviral Therapy published a report on the use of bee venom to cure HIV. Washington University School of Medicine explained that bee venom contains the toxin melittin which can penetrate the double-layered membrane that protects the HIV virus, enabling it to kill the virus without harming the patient. This research made headlines around the globe when the federal government accepted that a child had been “functionally cured” of HIV following months of antiretroviral medicines. Researchers are now developing a vaginal gel to prevent the spread of HIV and are looking into bee venom applications that may lead to a cure for Hepatitis B and C as well as other autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Right up until the 1940s honey was used to treat wounds in humans and animals because of its proven antibacterial properties. With the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs it has been recalled from the medical shadows because of its effectiveness where modern drugs are failing. Due to the natural mix of a large range of substances within it, honey is antimicrobial, but only if it is the unpasteurised raw substance nature intended. In general medicinal honeys must come from hives kept in unpolluted areas where the bees feed on pollens collected from uncontaminated plants and their own honey supplies rather than artificially introduced fructose corn syrup. Wild is best; with the Manuka honey from New Zealand and the heather honey from Inverness leading the pack.
Once you have obtained good honey for your cupboard its applications outstrip wounds and ulcers to include even our daily coughs and colds.
A recent study compared the powers of dextromethorphan, which is the active ingredient in almost all regular cough mixtures, and honey in a group of 105 poorly kids from the ages of 2 to 18. The children were split into three groups. Every night one set received honey, another third swallowed honey-flavored dextromethorphan and the final children were given nothing at all. Honey surpassed dextromethorphan convincingly at relieving the cold and cough symptoms and enabling the children to get a better night’s sleep.
Propolis, the resin-like substance bees use to coat the inside of their hives, was used by the ancient Greeks on abscesses, burns and tumours for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Although some researchers claim it is a highly effective remedy for peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal diseases, others argue there is insufficient scientific proof to say more than that propolis is an excellent treatment for cold sores, genital herpes and reduces pain and inflammation after mouth surgery. However, it is currently being used with some success in chronic cases of bacterial infections, including tuberculosis, where antibiotics have failed to improve a patient’s condition.
Apitherapy has been on the medical menu for too long to be wiped out because some commercial products have been found to be tampered with and because many bee keepers are fighting a losing battle against pesticides, fungicides and pollution weakening their hives. All of these current problems mean that the onus rests on the consumer to check the source of bee products before investing in them. If it’s pure and raw, bees provide us with the same miraculous medicines they have done for millennia.