Buzzkill: Why Bee Pollen Should Be Left For The Bees.

The bee pollen I polished off the first time with no ill effects. Image courtesy of theskinnyconfidential.com

The bee pollen I polished off the first time with no ill effects. Image courtesy of theskinnyconfidential.com

Bee pollen, also known as propolis, is garnering a lot of attention in the superfood world. Dubbed "Nature's Perfect Food" and "Energy in a Spoon" by the raw food and holistic health experts, it's easy to see how those tiny, golden granules have become so seductive to those looking to natural stimulants to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the modern-day lifestyle. In fact, I, until very recently, was a big fan of bee pollen. I listened to advice from my favorite bloggers and health gurus like Kimberly Snyder, CN, author and nutritionist to some of Hollywood's hottest A-list stars and purchased propolis from a local beekeeper that harvests the protein and B vitamin rich granules responsibly. I understood to start slow in case of allergic reaction, but since I am not allergic to bees nor do I suffer seasonal allergies, I knew I'd be fine. And I was. I polished off a big bottle of the sunshine-y pollen with no problem. The problem began when I bought a new mason jar of pollen from a different local beekeeper. I took my "energy in a spoon" {1 tsp bee pollen with a drizzle of raw coconut oil} and my throat began to close up.

This pretty spoonful of propolis could be deadly. Image used from Kimberly Snyder's cleanse website My Glow Bio which includes "energy in a spoon" as a snack to suppress hunger and increase energy without caffeine. 

This pretty spoonful of propolis could be deadly. Image used from Kimberly Snyder's cleanse website My Glow Bio which includes "energy in a spoon" as a snack to suppress hunger and increase energy without caffeine. 

I was home alone with my two babies when I began to feel my throat itch and immediately begin to swell. I knew it must be an allergic response to the pollen, so I calmly told my 7 year old that in case mommy stops breathing he'd have to call 911. Freaking out on the inside, I wondered how long I'd have and what was going to happen. Luckily, I was able to call my doctor to find out protocol as I was also hurriedly searching google. I was told to call 911 and have an ambulance rush me to the hospital. Since I was still breathing and my throat wasn't completely swollen shut {it had been about 5 minutes at this point}, I called my dear friend who rushed over and took me toward the hospital. Doing fine, I urged her to let me just go to the Minute Clinic in CVS, where the pharmacist told me that I could take a Benadryl and would likely be fine. Following his advice, I did just that and saved tons of money from not going to the ER. I took the Benedryl as we drove back towards home when I began feeling weak and nauseous with a racing heart and my throat still felt swollen. My friend turned around and we headed to urgent care. The lady at the front desk was sure I was just responding to the Benedryl this time, but sent a nurse out to check my oxygen and heart rate levels just in case. Turns out, I was fine but quickly ran to the restroom where I began to vomit. Having not eaten much that day for whatever reason, all that came up was that golden bee pollen. Glad to have it out of my system, I left feeling better but my throat was still tight. What could have gone wrong? Why did I suddenly suffer an allergic reaction to this bee pollen but not the other? 

Buzzkill. Bee pollen should be left for the bees.

Buzzkill. Bee pollen should be left for the bees.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of science-backed studies on the consumption of bee pollen. Turns out that in the 1980's, research on propolis consumption concluded that while it's rich in protein, pollen is poorly digested in humans and therefore, not actually useful to us. The only other studies since then have been case reports of bad reactions to bee pollen from anaphylactic shock to acute renal failure. It seems all the health claims perpetuating on green and holistic living sites like Mother Nature Network of bee pollen being the cure all miracle food of everything all stem from the work of a Russian botanist Dr. Nicolai Tsitsin from the first half of the 20th century saying that inhabitants of a small Russian village in the Caucasus Mountains live to be 125 years old because they eat pollen. However, there is nothing to support these anecdotal reports. It seems to be over-hyped and completely unsubstantiated by credible scientific evidence. Call it the bee pollen myth if you will. 

Fun fact: Pollen is not made from bees. "Bee Pollen" is simply the pollen that gathers on the bees legs mixed with its own saliva. Tasty. Image courtesy of www.whyfiles.org

Fun fact: Pollen is not made from bees. "Bee Pollen" is simply the pollen that gathers on the bees legs mixed with its own saliva. Tasty. Image courtesy of www.whyfiles.org

What I still can't grasp is how I was fine consuming an entire bottle of bee pollen previously but had an allergic reaction to the next batch. After finding out as much information as I could with what limited information is out there, I found that bee pollen should be refrigerated, kept in a dark hued jar and is susceptible to mold. Aha! I asked about the bee pollen I purchased not being refrigerated because my last batch was and it was also in an opaque container. She said the bee farmer said it was shelf stable and I, unfortunately, trusted that information and did not argue. It seems to me that the pollen I received likely was tainted with mold that I was allergic to... much like with peanut allergies. It is thought that it's not the actual peanut which is the allergen, but the aflatoxin mold that so frequently infects most batches of peanuts. Ding ding. 

Whether that's the case or not, I'm not going to waste my money buying this supposed superfood. This scary incident was reminder to always research reputable sources before taking an unfamiliar food or supplement because some cuckoo on the internet says I should. 

"Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe."

Remember, superfoods are super because of their concentrated nutritional profile. So be weary of health regimens or advice to take high doses of these. I've even heard of people passing out and becoming sick from taking too much turmeric, the true spice of life and brain health superstar. Eating too much spinach and kale can cause kidney stones. Heck, even too much water can kill you. So, please if you take nothing else from this post, at least remember to question everything that goes into your body that you're unfamiliar with. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And remember, you are the best expert on your body. Superfoods are fun. I get it. I love them. Acai is my healthy crush. But, nothing will do better for your health than a diet full of plain ol' whole, organic fresh fruits and vegetables you can source from your local market. 

I'll leave you with my favorite quote from Michael Pollan that sums up healthy eating at its best: 

"Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."