Apiculture is the science and art of prolonging, sustaining, and retaining health by using products obtained from honeybee hives, such as honey, bee bread, bee venom, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. Recent years have seen the fast application of bee products in both traditional and modern medicine. Currently, many studies are targeted toward investigating directed health benefits and pharmacological properties of bee products due to their efficacies, leading to the increasing development of nutraceuticals and functional food from these products. The concept of functional food refers to food that has the ability to promote better physiological or psychological health compared to traditional remediated and nutritional food. These effects positively contribute toward excellent health maintenance, well-being, and reduced chronic illness. The present review focuses on the potential health benefits of bee products, including honey, propolis, and royal jelly.
Honey is a sweet liquid processed by the honey bee. Honey is recognized worldwide due to its high nutritive components that are beneficial for human well-being. It has been traditionally used by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese to heal wounds and diseases of the gut, including gastric ulcers. It has also been used as a remedy for cough, sore throat, and earaches. In India, Lotus honey has been traditionally used to treat eye infections and other diseases. In addition to being used externally, honey is also used internally as a functional food to provide energy and nourishment to enhance vital organs in the body. This has been in practice since ancient times. The active components of honey, such as glucose, fructose, flavonoid, polyphenols, and organic acids, play an important role in its quality]. Honey is being produced in many countries all over the world and is recognized as an important medicine as well as energy-providing food due to its functional properties and nutritional values. Additionally, honey is well known for its biological, physiological, and pharmacological activities.
Propolis is generally known as the “bee glue”, which is a generic name that refers to the resinous substance accumulated by the bees from different types of plants. The word “propolis” is derived from Greek to mean defense for “pro” and city or community for “polis”, or the beehive, in other words. Propolis functions in sealing holes and cracks and for the reconstruction of the beehive. It is also used for smoothing the inner surface of the beehive, retaining the hive’s internal temperature (35°C), preventing weathering and invasion by predators. Furthermore, propolis hardens the cell wall and contributes to an aseptic internal environment. Propolis generally becomes soft and sticky upon heating. It also possesses a pleasant smell. Propolis and its extracts have numerous applications in treating various diseases due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti mycotic, antifungal, antiulcer, anticancer, and immuno-modulatory properties.
Royal jelly, a white and viscous jelly-like substance, is a form of hypopharyngeal and mandibular gland secretion from the worker bees. It is also known as a “superfood” that is solely consumed by the queen bee. Royal jelly is also fed to the honeybee larvae upon hatching and helps to nurture the brood. It is the exclusive nutriment offered to the immature young larvae in their first 2-3 days of maturation besides being used as a food specifically for the queen bee throughout her entire life cycle. Royalactin is the main compound in royal jelly that allows the morphological change of a larva into the queen bee. This superfood is the main reason for the longevity of the queen bee compared to the other bees. Royal jelly is widely used as a dietary nutritional complex to help combat various chronic health conditions. Furthermore, it is one of the profitable remedies for human beings in both traditional and modern medicine. Many pharmacological activities such as antibacterial, antitumor, anti allergy, anti-inflammatory, and immuno-modulatory effects have also been attributed to it.
Bee pollen is produced from plant flower pollen, which is collected by bees and mixed with nectar or the salivary gland secretion of the insects. In such form, it is transported, placed on the hind legs, to hives. Then flightless bees mix it with their saliva and pack into honeycombs, covered with a mixture of wax and honey. Under such conditions, the anaerobic fermentation proceeds with the formation of lactic acid, serving as a preservative. The substance, produced in this way, makes a source of nutrients for both adult bees and larvae. The beekeepers collect bee pollen using traps that enable to separate pellets from insects’ legs.
Pollen food energy is rather high; for instance, bee pollen produced by Apis mellifera, collected in Thailand and containing mainly corn pollen, showed its value to be as much as 397.16 kcal/100 g. In 22 samples of bee pollens collected in Portugal, the obtained values ranged from 396.4 to 411.1 kcal/100 g. It is even named “only perfectly complete food” or “the life-giving dust”.