Debate Buzzes Over The Value Of Bee Pollen

Posted: June 29, 1986

Hey, you're only human.

When slick advertisements proclaim the amazing powers of products designed to improve life, love and the pursuit of excellence, you're entitled to exhibit a little curiosity. Ever since traveling salesmen roamed from town to town on horse and buggy and mesmerized the crowds with promises of wonder potions, consumers have been attracted to the new and improved.

Today, athletes and those trying to maintain or improve their health are often susceptible to the lure of "super" products. Fitness enthusiasts are so anxious to cultivate their physical abilities that they scan all the health-oriented magazines to get the scoop on the latest body aid. Perhaps the most popular of these health fads is - now, hold on to your honey jar - bee pollen.

Bee pollen, the ads claim, is the world's miracle food. Accordingly, manufacturers of bee pollen say that this food supplement improves an athlete's endurance and stamina. Using celebrity endorsements, the bee-pollen companies convince athletes that this perfect food is the perfect way to improve one's game "naturally." Unfortunately, no matter who sanctions its use or how many slick publications in which it is advertised, bee pollen won't change athletic abilities a notch, the experts say.

A SIMPLE BYPRODUCT

Although tales about the powers of bee pollen to endow humans with exceptional health and physical ability abound, this "superfood" is actually a simple byproduct of nature. Basically, bee pollen is flower pollen collected by honeybees and transported by them to their hives for use in the manufacture of honey. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is no scientific evidence for therapeutic benefit from bee pollen.

While ingestion of bee pollen probably won't harm athletes, the flat truth is that it doesn't help them, either. This was shown a decade ago in a study by the National Association of Athletic Trainers. Using swimmers as their test group for six months, the association gave half of the group 10 bee pollen tablets a day, a quarter of the group a daily dosage of 10 placebos (sugar pills), and the other quarter of the group five bee pollen and five placebo tablets daily. At the end of the study, there was no measurable difference in performance among these three groups. In fact, a later study by the researchers found that bee pollen was "absolutely not a significant aid in metabolism, workout training or performance."

Some bee-pollen pushers boast about the protein element in this supplement. They say that pollen is one of the richest protein sources in the world. But bee pollen's main component is carbohydrate, not protein. Protein, in fact, only makes up 5 to 28 percent of bee pollen, depending from which plant it originates.

OTHERS TARGETED

Athletes aren't the only ones being targeted by bee-pollen manufacturers. Bee pollen is also said to relieve allergies, asthma and hay fever. Some scientists, however, counter such statements by saying that the pollen may actually prove hazardous to these sufferers. Statistics have shown that individuals allergic to specific pollens have developed asthmatic symptoms and other reactions after ingesting bee pollen.

Can bee pollen ever enhance athletic ability? Only in a psychological sense. For example, if a person is convinced that a supplement is aiding his or her game, then he or she may actually be psyched up enough to improve performance. This is known as the placebo effect, and, in that sense, the bee pollen may help. But the supplement basically lands in the same league as wearing plastic sweatsuits to lose weight - physically, they are of no help at all.

For athletes intent on improving their stamina and overall health, the best bet is to avoid costly supplements such as bee pollen and instead spend that money on fresh, healthy items from the four major food groups. Certainly - and this is fact, not fiction - a consistently healthy diet will add more zest to a person's performance than a mountain of bee-pollen pills. By getting back to the basics and ignoring tales of superhuman supplements, athletes can concentrate on improving their health naturally.

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