Interrogating Health Claims:
Example - Bee Pollen


I’m interested in all things ’bee’, however, it was only in the last few years that I became aware of claims made regarding bee pollen and benefits to human health, and even as a diet aid.

My simple belief is that if we eat healthily, expend an appropriate amount of energy for the calories we intake, and keep a positive attitude toward our health, then generally, we shouldn’t need to take supplements or bother with diets.

Granted, there may be medical conditions that warrant the use of supplements and special diets, but I tend to think that for the rest of us, we can probably get by with plenty of fruit and vegetables, with a reasonable amount of protein and carbohydrates.

How do I know whether or not I’m getting the right amount?  I’ll confess that even here, I personally don’t follow any rules.  Fortunately for me, natural, wholesome foods are what I was brought up on – most of the fruit and vegetables being provided for my family from our (organic) garden.  It’s served me well all my life, such that I take no medications and have never been in hospital.  Illness – even common ailments, are rare for me.

However, I decided to keep an open mind with regard to bee pollen, so I took it upon myself to read around the subject, approaching it from different angles.  I genuinely wanted to know, “is bee pollen good for you?”.

Eventually, I came to the personal conclusion that many of the claims made could encourage people to spend far more money than they needed to, and for no reason.

It seemed to me that the claims made in relation to bee pollen and its benefits to humans when taken as a supplement fitted broadly into 4 categories, and I decided to share them with you here.  You may see similar arguments used elsewhere. 

In sharing this I hope those interested will be encoruaged to dig deeper, even if they do not have the time or general inclination to read lots of scientific research.

1. Comparisons with other foods

What was really interesting to me when I investigated this, was the number of times claims were extrapolated from data for an inexpensive food stuff, like spinach, to suggest that it would be worth buying bee pollen (which is significantly more expensive), because bee pollen also contained the same nutritional component.  (My response would be: just eat spinach every now and then!).


The other common set of claims made, tended to follow the logic that, for example:

  • 'If X' is beneficial to 'Z' function in the body
  • And if bee pollen contains 'X'
  • Therefore, bee pollen is also beneficial to the aforementioned 'Z' function in the body
  • So it's worth buying bee pollen.

Whilst I don’t refute such claims necessarily, I really felt this was a little unfair to the trusting customer who buys bee pollen at a fairly expensive price in order to gain the claimed benefit, when he or she could just as easily purchase a commonly available food containing the highlighted ingredient (X), and at a very small fraction of the price!

Although I advocate organic produce, I'm afraid even organic bee pollen is of no itnerest to me.


2. Reliance on trials conducted only on animals

One such study quoted as evidence is by Qian B, Zang X, Liu X.: Effects of bee pollen on lipid peroxides and immune response in aging and malnourished mice. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 1990;15(5):301-3, 319. 

However, I'm afraid that what applies to mice does not necessarily apply to humans - if it were the case, there'd be no trials on humans at all for medicines. As is,  92% of new drugs successful in animal studies go on to fail in clinical trials, as at Northwick Park – sometimes injuring or killing volunteers and patients.
(Source: http://www.safermedicines.org/)

3. If it's good for bees, it must be good for me!

Since when did we go around eating things just because another creature eats them?  I mean, think about what flies eat - depending on the species, it's not always nice!

Bees need pollen and nectar - it's the ideal food that is available to them, and in turn, they pollinate food crops. Yes, perhaps bee pollen is good for you, but so are a myriad other commonly available, less expensive foods!

4.  It can help me lose weight

This is a claim that really surprised me, given that it is relatively high in fat and calories.  Yet again, I found no evidence that there was any real benefit to those wishing to lose weight.


Calories
(Note: Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
Bee Pollen 100g Raw Unpeeled Apple 100g Boiled Kale 100g
Calories 314 52 28
Cals from Fat 44 1 3
Carbohydrate % DV 14% 5% 2%


Incidentally, 100g Bee Pollen has more calories  than 100g of a Mac Donald's Big Mac, which has 257 calories, in comparison with 314 calories from the same amount of Bee Pollen - see my page  Bee Pollen Nutrition.

It turned out that the claim was actually more subtle - it was saying that it's a good idea to take bee pollen as a means of dietry support. 


But why?  Sometimes it seems to me that anyone wanting to cash in on the health supplement-food fad, tries to find an angle on dieting and weight loss, because that's where there is lots of money to be made.

Seriously, if you want to purchase bee pollen, then I don't wish to cause offence, but I my advice would be: think about it before your spend your money.   There may be better ways for your to spend it!


You can read information about allergic reactions and side effects on the link here, or read in detail about me investigations, by clicking this link.






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