Royal Jelly - miracle ingredient?

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An introduction to the wondrous features of this unassuming bee product.

The important role that diet plays in preventing and treating illness is widely accepted. Nutritional foods are widely sought after, and the use of supplements for health continues to grow.

Among foods that possess potential health benefits are those originating from the beehive, namely royal jelly.[10] Royal jelly is one of the most interesting supplement ingredients currently available, and it's long been known for its medicinal and health-promoting properties.

The wide biological effects of royal jelly have been used since antiquity.[14] It has considerable commercial appeal and is utilised in many sectors today, ranging from the pharmaceutical and food industries to the cosmetic and manufacturing sectors.[10]

Recently, royal jelly and its protein and lipid components have been subjected to several investigations on their antimicrobial activity due, to extensive traditional uses and for a future application in medicine.[2]

As a result, there have been some very intriguing and exciting results, which could significantly impact the popularity and uses of the ingredient going forward.[2]

Royal Jelly

So what exactly is royal jelly? It is a natural bee product, a secretion of the cephalic glands of nurse bees.[17]

It is the exclusive nourishment for all bee larvae, from hatching to the third day of life. Larvae which are selected to develop into queens are fed with royal jelly until the fifth day of larval life and then it remains a dedicated food for the queen bee for the rest of her life.[2]

There have been suggestions that royal jelly is the reason that queen bees are so much bigger than workers, and also why they live much longer - the queen can live for up to 5 years, but the average lifespan of a worker bee is just a couple of months.

The actual product is a viscous jelly substance which is partially soluble in water, and is mainly made up of water, sugar, proteins, lipids, vitamins, and some mineral salts.[9, 10, 11]

There has been a lot of research into the beneficial components of royal jelly, as bee products in general are considered to be a potential source of natural antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, or terpenoids.[14]

Despite the fact that royal jelly has been used since ancient times, scientists have only begun to uncover its many health benefits.[17]

History

As previously mentioned, royal jelly has been around and been used for millennia for care and the upkeep of wellbeing. It is still very important in traditional and folkloristic medicine today, especially in Asia within apitherapy, which uses multiple bee products medicinally.[2, 17]

This is often to combat diabetes and keep the blood sugar normal.[2, 17] In the past, many countries outside of Asia also used royal jelly in their health practices.

Greeks thought that the ‘ambrosia’ nectar that the gods ate (which gave them immortality) was partly composed of royal jelly, and Aristotle was the first to discover the function of royal jelly - he studied its effects on the queen bee and attributed the consumption of royal jelly to an increase of physical strength within the queen.[2]

In other countries like Egypt, royal jelly was used as a cosmetic, and became one of Cleopatra’s coveted ‘personal beauty secrets’.[2] During this period, royal jelly became a symbol of strength and the majesty of the Pharaohs, as they often ate it.[3, 4]

Ancient China, like Greece and Egypt, reserved royal jelly for the most important people in their society - the emperors. It was produced exclusively in the sovereign gardens.[5, 6]

Later, in the 17th century, European scientists began to study the ingredient, and it was a Dutch naturalist, Jan Swammerdam, who was the first to describe the compound, and to discover that the chief of the hive was a queen and not a king, as previously thought.[7]

Because of its historical significance, royal jelly is constantly under experimentation, to see if the ways the ancient people used the compound has any basis in modern scientific practise. The general consensus is that it does! 

Health Benefits

Honeybee products are composed of different nutrients and have different biological activities that are beneficial to human health, royal jelly in particular.[15]

In various studies it has been demonstrated to possess numerous functional properties such as antibacterial activity, anti-inflammatory activity, disinfectant action, antioxidant activity, and antitumor activity![16]

From a chemical point of view, royal jelly is an emulsion of proteins, sugars, and lipids in water, containing about 1.5% mineral salts.[14] It is these different elements that give it such amazing properties, and this composition varies with seasonal and regional conditions.[10]

The one thing that remains the same though is that its composition is quite complex. Other than the proteins, sugars, and lipids, royal jelly contains different amino acids, organic acids, steroids, esters, phenols, trace elements and other constituents, which is absolutely incredible for a natural product.[10] 

One of the main features of royal jelly is its antibacterial properties. Recently, royal jelly and its protein and lipid components have been subjected to several investigations on their antimicrobial activity, particularly the protein royalisin.[2]

The presence of antibacterial properties in royal jelly has been known for many years, but it has only recently been found that royalisin is one of the reasons for it.[1]

When conducting studies on this protein, scientists found that it displayed extremely potent antibacterial activity against gram-positive bacteria.[1] The fact that royalisin has been identified to have this effect could mean that in the future it can be isolated and utilised in an even more beneficial way.

One of the most interesting ideas that has come out of these studies is that royal jelly has some effect against the type of bacteria that can infect skin wounds, demonstrating its further potential in the medical field.[1]

Even more importantly however, is that royal jelly has been shown to be effective against multidrug resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.[2] With the overuse of antibiotics being a considerable worry because of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, this finding is absolutely brilliant, and possibly a cause for hope for the future.[2]

Royal jelly also features antioxidative properties. Multiple studies have looked into defining the cause of the antioxidant behaviour in royal jelly, with different findings.

One study managed to isolate 29 antioxidative peptides from royal jelly hydrolysate, and these peptides revealed strong hydroxyl radical scavenging activity (antioxidant properties).[10]

This is highly beneficial, it means that royal jelly can actively prevent cell decay caused by free radicals (which are produced when breaking down food, or smoking).

Another proposed reason for the antioxidative properties is a fatty acid, 10-HDA. Fatty acids are the ‘good’ acids that your body needs in order to function. 10-HDA (10-hydroxydecanoic acid) is a very intriguing compound, as its presence has not been reported in any other raw material (other than royal jelly).[14] It is considered one of the most important components in royal jelly, as it gives it its biological functions, mostly those of an antioxidant.[14]

Despite these different findings, the fact remains that royal jelly’s antioxidative properties are extremely useful for wellbeing and upkeep of health. 

In addition to the previous two functions, many other uses have been suggested because of royal jelly’s biological components. There is an idea that royal jelly might be beneficial for diabetic patients.[14]

Studies have found that royal jelly can reduce insulin resistance because of its antioxidant effects, and because of insulin-like peptides.[14, 17]

This is in addition to other compounds such as chromium, sulphur, and vitamins B3 and H.[14, 17] The helpful function of B3 within royal jelly is not a surprise, as B group vitamins are abundant within the ingredient, especially B5, as well as many others.[12, 13]

Furthermore, it has been found that royal jelly products may have a role in controlling tumour growth and metastasis, which is a major discovery.[10] As cancers mutate all the time, finding new substances like royal jelly that could have an effect on fighting them is of great benefit to the population.

Another possible use for royal jelly is within the immune system. In-vivo experiments have demonstrated that the compound has both immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive effects, which means that it could be beneficial in multiple different situations![10] 

Conclusion

In summary, royal jelly is one of the most multipurpose ingredients within the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Not only does it have the potential to be included in skin-based products because of its antioxidative, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects, it also has features that can help tackle major diseases like cancer and diabetes.[17]

Not to mention the fact that royal jelly could represent a starting point for the formulation of new products for therapeutic and pharmacological uses as an alternative to conventional antibiotics.[2]

After all this, the only sensible conclusion is that in general, honeybee products should be included in the daily diet for a healthy life.[15]

1) Fujiwara S, Imai J, Fujiwara M, Yaeshima T, Kawashima T, Kobayashi K. A potent antibacterial protein in royal jelly. Purification and determination of the primary structure of royalisin. Journal of Biological Chemistry [Internet]. 1990 [cited 11 May 2021];265(19):11333-11337. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021925819385965

2) Fratini F, Cilia G, Mancini S, Felicioli A. Royal Jelly: An ancient remedy with remarkable antibacterial properties. Microbiological Research [Internet]. 2016 [cited 11 May 2021];192:130-141. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0944501316300830

3) Levet M. Guérir Avec Les Abeilles. Paris: Editions Trajectoire; 2008.

4) Emonet H. Etude de la médecine égyptienne antique et de sa pharmacopée (le papyrus Ebers) [Doctorate]. Université François Rabelais, Tours; 2001.

5) Contessi A, Celli G. Le api: biologia, allevamento, prodotti. Bologna: Edagricole; 1983.

6) Cherbuliez T, Domerego R. L'apithérapie: médecine des abeilles. Ed. Amyris; 2003.

7) Viel C, Doré JC. Histoire et emplois du miel, de l'hydromel et des produits de la ruche. Revue d'histoire de la pharmacie. 2003;91(337):7-20.

8) Molan P. Why honey is effective as a medicine: 2. The scientific explanation of its effects. Bee world. 2001 Jan 1;82(1):22-40.

9) Melliou E, Chinou I. Chemistry and bioactivity of royal jelly from Greece. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2005 Nov 16;53(23):8987-92.

10) Ramadan MF, Al-Ghamdi A. Bioactive compounds and health-promoting properties of royal jelly: A review. Journal of functional foods. 2012 Jan 1;4(1):39-52.

11) Vecchi MA, Sabatini AG, Nanetti A, Marcazzan G, Rosso G, Benfenati L, Quarantotto G. Sali minerali nel nutrimento larvale di api regine e operaie (Apis mellifera ligustica Spinola)

12) Li Y, Xiang Q, Zhang Q, Huang Y, Su Z. Overview on the recent study of antimicrobial peptides: origins, functions, relative mechanisms and application. Peptides. 2012 Oct 1;37(2):207-15.

13) Viuda-Martos M, Ruiz-Navajas Y, Fernández-López J, Pérez-Álvarez JA. Functional properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly.(2008). J Food Sci.;73.

14) Kocot J, Kiełczykowska M, Luchowska-Kocot D, Kurzepa J, Musik I. Antioxidant Potential of Propolis, Bee Pollen, and Royal Jelly: Possible Medical Application. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity [Internet]. 2018 [cited 11 May 2021];2018. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2018/7074209/

15) Özkök D, Silici S. Antioxidant activities of honeybee products and their mixtures. Food Science and Biotechnology [Internet]. 2017 [cited 11 May 2021];26(1):201-206. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049477/

16) Viuda-Martos M, Ruiz‐Navajas Y, Fernández‐López J, Pérez‐Álvarez J. Functional Properties of Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly. Journal of Food Science [Internet]. 2008 [cited 11 May 2021];73(9):R117-R124. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00966.x

17) Pavel C, Mărghitaş L, Bobiş O, Dezmirean D, Şapcaliu A, Radoi I et al. Biological Activities of Royal Jelly - Review. Scientific Papers: Animal Science and Biotechnologies [Internet]. 2011 [cited 11 May 2021];44(2). Available from: http://spasb.ro/index.php/spasb/article/view/560/517

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