The health of the honey bee colony is as dependent on pollen as it is upon honey. Pollen is virtually the sole source of proteins, fatty substances, minerals, and vitamins that are necessary during the production of larval food and for the development of newly emerged bees. A colony cannot rear brood if it doesn’t have pollen. A populous colony typically collects about 35 kilograms of pollen during an entire season. Nectar and honey are added to the mass of stored pollen. Pollen stored in this way undergoes chemical changes and is called “Bee bread.”
Protein is a major component of pollen with an average value of almost 24 percent. Pollen contains over 50 percent more protein than beef. Pollen is a good potassium source and is much lower than most foods in sodium. Pollen is most noted for its mineral and vitamin composition. Indeed pollen contains substantial quantities of the minerals potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as notably high levels of iron, zinc, manganese and copper. Pollen contains over 7.5 times iron than that of beef, a food generally recommended as a good source of iron. Bee-collected pollen is extraordinarily rich in most of the B-vitamins, including thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, folic acid and biotin. It contains highly variable, but not remarkable levels of vitamin C. Pollen is extraordinarily rich in carotenes which are metabolic precursors of vitamin A. In terms of vitamin A equivalents, pollen is several times richer than cabbage, a food considered an excellent source of that vitamin, and surpassed only by tomatoes. But because of the low caloric nature of tomatoes, almost 5 times the weight of tomatoes must be eaten to obtain the vitamin A levels of pollen.
The best documented healthful benefit of pollen for humans is undoubtedly the treatment of chronic prostatitis. Consumption of pollen preparations have been shown in several studies to reduce the inflammation, discomfort and pathology of patients suffering from benign prostatic inflammation. The exact reasons for the dramatically improved conditions as a result of eating pollen remain unclear. A possible factor in pollen that could be important is zinc. Pollen contains extraordinarily high concentrations of zinc.
In pollen zinc functions in enzymatic processes at the growing tip of the pollen germination tube, and in humans zinc is a key element in prostate gland function. The zinc concentration in that gland is not only several times greater than other body tissues, but appears to be correlated with the ability of the gland to produce an antibacterial factor in semen. Men with chronic prostatitis have lower prostate zinc levels than control men.
These observations are only correlations, as specific studies addressing the effect of added dietary zinc on prostatitis have not been reported, but are suggestive that high zinc levels in pollen might be a reason for the therapeutic effects.
Pollen has a nutritional composition that surpasses that of virtually any food typically eaten.