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Royal jelly – the nobility’s food

On the left, a queen larva surrounded by royal jelly (RJ). On the right, locally extracted RJ.

On the left, a queen larva surrounded by royal jelly (RJ). On the right, locally extracted RJ.

Nature has provided us with several different ‘superfoods’ that have proven to be beneficial to our overall health and fitness. Nevertheless, Royal jelly (RJ) is more than likely the reigning king… or queen of these natural products.

Most people assume that honey is the only bees’ product we collect from the beehive. However, bees also give us RJ, propolis and pollen. Propolis is a resinous substance that the bees produce from tree glue which is mixed with their saliva. Both propolis and pollen are used in alternative medicine. RJ is a thick, milky-white, creamy liquid secreted from glands of the nurse bees, which is extremely nutritious and complex in its chemical composition.

All the bees’ larvae are fed RJ in the first three days of their development. This specific feeding will give the larvae a healthy and nutritious boost to survive their first days of life. However, one larva is exclusively fed RJ throughout its entire life and that larva will become the queen bee. Genetically, there is no difference between a worker bee and a queen bee. The exclusive feeding of RJ triggers the full development of the queen bee ovaries while the female worker bees fail to fully develop their ovaries. A queen bee matures before a worker bee and weighs double a worker bee. A queen bee can live up to five or six years, while a worker bee only lives for about six weeks. In a single season, a queen bee lays around 250,000 eggs. During the peak of the season it may lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. It is widely assumed that the differential morphological and physiological features of a queen bee to that of a worker bee lie with the queens’ sole food, RJ.

Bees also give us royal jelly, propolis and pollen. Both propolis and pollen are used in alternative medicine

RJ is a complete food containing all the major nutrients that humans need, including all amino acids and many of the vitamins we require. RJ is being researched for its pharmacological effects on the human body. Studies have demonstrated that RJ seems to possess anti-oxidant properties, properties to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. RJ contains acetylcholine, which is essential for nerve cells to transmit messages from cell to cell and is also important for the prevention of certain degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. RJ also contains 10-hydroxydecenoic acid, which is being investigated for its potential antitumor activity. Containing such a wide variety of nutrients that are essential for the proper health and organ function, RJ is becoming more popular as a food supplement with health-conscious people.

Adrian Bugeja Douglas has been researching bee-hive products for several years and is the author of a number of publications on this topic, including Physicochemical Characterisation of Maltese Honey, which may be downloaded freely from https://goo.gl/u9QUTi .

Did you know?

• Bees are the only insect in the world that make food that people can eat.

• A bee’s wings beat 190 times a second, that is 11,400 times a minute!

• Honey has natural preservatives so that it will not go bad.

• It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of honey and they would have to visit four million flowers.

• Bees have been around for more than 30 million years.

• Eating honey can help you be smarter! It is the only food to contain ‘pinocembrin’ which is an antioxidant that improves brain function.

• Bees communicate by smells called ‘pheromones’ and by performing special ‘dances’.

For more trivia, see www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• Biologists have provided the first evidence that a widely used pesticide can significantly impair the ability of otherwise healthy honey bees to fly. The study, which employed a bee ‘flight mill’, raises concerns about how pesticides affect honey bee pollination and long-term effects on the health of honey bee colonies.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170426093454.htm

• Scientists have discovered the purpose of a famous 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet, revealing it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, possibly used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces and temples and build canals. The new research shows the Babylonians beat the Greeks to the invention of trigonometry – the study of triangles – by more than 1,000 years.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170824141250.htm

To find out some more interesting science news, listen in on Radio Mocha every Monday and Friday at 1pm on Radju Malta 2.

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