Royal jelly is a secretion that worker bees produce to feed larvae and the queen in a honey bee hive. This special food is extremely powerful, rich, and nutritious to bees, so people have assumed that it will offer some of the same benefits to humans. It purportedly treats a wide variety of ailments as a dietary supplement.
The queen bee is the leader of the colony and the only one allowed to reproduce. She can be fertilized and lay eggs just a few times during her entire life. Worker bees, the ones that collect nectar from flowers, are able to excrete a creamy, special food from glands on their head. The queen subsists entirely on this food. When eggs turn into larvae, the baby bees also eat this special food, nicknamed royal jelly, for two to three days. From their vulnerable state, they quickly develop into healthy and large bees.
People noticed the almost miraculous effects that royal jelly has on bees and ascribed to it extraordinary powers since the queen lives 60 times as long as a drone and is usually twice as heavy. As a result, people began harvesting this substance from hives, and sold it as a nutritional elixir that promised robust health, healing, and extended youthfulness.
Among the long list of ailments that royal jelly is said to improve or cure are high cholesterol, arthritis, weak kidneys, fatigue, nervousness, sallow or rashy skin, thin or brittle hair, high blood pressure, allergies, and sexual dysfunction. Scientists know that it is mostly carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, and fats, along with vitamins like the B complex, niacin, folic acid, and enzymes. None of these minerals or vitamins appears to be unique to the substance.
As a health tonic, royal jelly is sold as capsules or pills to be ingested on a daily basis. Since it is rare and difficult to collect from hives, it can be quite expensive. It is not a regulated medicine and has never been shown, through scientific studies on humans, to have any health benefits. A few studies on mice leave open the possibility that it can lower cholesterol, however.
A very important point to take into account before anyone begins consuming this substance is that, since it is related to honey, bee pollen, and bee stings, it can cause extremely strong allergic reactions. People who do not know if they are allergic to bees or bee products should consult a medical professional for an allergy test. Otherwise, an allergic individual may develop rashes, swollen throat, asthma-like symptoms, bronchial inflammation, congestion, or other symptoms that could become quite serious.