Royal jelly is a milky white substance -- sometimes called bee's milk -- secreted from the glands of worker bees. Mixed with honey, it nurses bee larvae in the first few days of life before they become worker bees. Queen bees are fed exclusively on royal jelly. They are on average 40 per cent larger than worker bees, 50 per cent heavier and live nearly twice as long. It has been assumed that the ingestion of royal jelly will do for humans what it does for bees. In light of this phenomena, the nutritional and chemical benefits of royal jelly have been investigated. Some individuals have had allergic reactions to the substance while others remark on its many health benefits.
Royal jelly is rich in minerals, vitamins, amino acids and essential fatty acids. It has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Proponents of royal jelly claim it delays ageing, increases appetite, strengthens the immune system and advances healing. Others note it calms arthritis and disorders of the nervous system, such as Parkinson's disease, as well as improving sexual and reproductive function. Studies undertaken during the 1970s evaluated the usefulness of royal jelly for relieving menopausal symptoms. Recent clinical studies support some of these claims. Royal jelly has been linked to a reduction of cholesterol in humans, reduced trembling in patients suffering from Parkinson's, the reduction of tumours in mice and to benefits in fighting viral and bacterial infections. However, more research into the components of royal jelly and its medicinal functions have yet to be undertaken.
Royal jelly is taken in several ways. In its pure form it is a jelly which requires refrigeration. It is often combined with honey which preserves the royal jelly and which also has its own set of health benefits. Royal jelly can be freeze-dried and taken in tablet or capsule form or as a liquid. It is used as an ingredient in cosmetics, balms and face care products, as well as in products which stimulate hair growth.
Royal jelly has produced severe allergies and anaphylaxis in individuals. Many allergy patients test positive in skin tests for royal jelly. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, Australian researchers reported that royal jelly caused asthma in some patients, leading to one death. A Japanese report blamed royal jelly for a case of gastroenteritis. Other possible side effects of taking royal jelly include insomnia, heart palpitations, agitation and anxiety.
Synthetic royal jelly has been marketed but, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, clinical trials reveal that it does not produce the same positive effects in either humans or bees (Reference 2). David Bender in A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition, argues that while royal jelly is full of vitamins and essential acids, the amounts in which it is consumed would make a "negligible contribution" to human health.