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BEE PRODUCTS: Royal Jelly 


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Royal Jelly 

Composition of royal jelly

The principal constituents of royal jelly are water, protein, sugars, lipids and mineral salts. Although they occur with notable variations (Table below), the composition of royal jelly remains relatively constant when comparing different colonies, bee races and time.

Water makes up about two thirds of fresh royal jelly, but by dry weight, proteins and sugars are by far the largest fractions. Of the nitrogenous substances, proteins average 73.9% and of the six major proteins (Otani et al., 1985) four are glycoproteins (Takenaka, 1987). Free amino acids average 2.3% and peptides 0.16% (Takenaka, 1984) of the nitrogenous substances. All amino acids essential for humans are present and a total of 29 amino acids and derivatives have been identified, the most important being aspartic acid and glutamic acid (Howe et al., 1985). The free amino acids are proline and lysine (Takenaka, 1984 and 1987). A number of enzymes are also present including glucose oxidase (Nye et al., 1973) phosphatase and cholinesterase (Ammon and Zoch, 1957). An insulin-like substance has been identified by Kramer et al. (1977 and 1982).

Table 1: Composition of royal jelly (form Lercker et al., 1984 and 1992)

 

Minimum

Maximum

Water

57%

70%

Proteins (N x 6.25)

17% of dry weight

45% of dry weight

Sugars

18% of dry weight

52% of dry weight

Lipids

3.5% of dry weight

19% of dry weight

Minerals

2% of dry weight

3% of dry weight

Sugars: consist mostly of fructose and glucose in relatively constant proportions similar to those in honey. Fructose is prevalent. In many cases, fructose and glucose together account for 90% of the total sugars. The sucrose content varies considerably from one sample to another. Other sugars present in much lower quantities are maltose, trehalose, melibiose, ribose and erlose (Lercker et al., 1984, 1986 and 1992).

Lipids: the lipid content is a unique and from many points of view, a very interesting feature of royal jelly. The lipid fraction consists to 80-90% (by dry weight) of free fatty acids with unusual and uncommon structures. They are mostly short chain (8 to 10 carbon atoms) hydroxy fatty acids or dicarboxylic acids, in contrast to the fatty acids with 14 to 20 carbon atoms, which are commonly found in animal and plant material. These fatty acids are responsible for most of the recorded biological properties of royal jelly (Schmidt and Buchmann, 1992). The principal acid is 10-hydroxy-2-decanoic acid, followed by its saturated equivalent, lO-hydroxydecanoic acid. In addition to the free fatty acids, the lipid fraction contains some neutral lipids, sterols (including cholesterol) and an unsaponifiable fraction of hydrocarbons similar to beeswax extracts (Lercker et al., 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1992).

Minerals: the total ash content of royal jelly is about 1 % of fresh weight or 2 to 3 % of dry weight. The major mineral salts are, in descending order: K, Ca, Na, Zn, Fe, Cu and Mn, with a strong prevalence of potassium (Benfenati et al., 1986).

Vitamins: the vitamin content has been the object of numerous studies, from the moment when the first research (Aeppler, 1922) showed that royal jelly is extremely rich in vitamins. Table 2 indicates the results obtained by Vecchi et al., (1988) with regard to water-soluble vitamins. Other authors report averages close to the minimum values of Table 2 (Schmidt and Buchmann, 1992). Only traces of vitamin C can be found.

Table 2:  Vitamin content of royal jelly in m g per gram of fesch weight (Vecchi et al., 1988)

 

Thiamine

Riboflavin

Pantothenic Acid

Pyridoxine

Niacin

Folic acid

Biotin

Minimum

1.44

5

159

1.0

48

0.130

1.1

Maximum

6.70

25

265

48.0

88

0.530

19.8

 

As far as the fat-soluble vitamins are concerned, it was initially thought that, given the enormous fertility of the queen bee, royal jelly would contain vitamin E. However, tests have shown that it does not. Vitamins A, D and K are also absent (Melampy and Jones, 1939).

During the first studies, much emphasis was placed on the search for sex hormones in royal jelly. The first positive tests were later proven wrong. Melampy and Stanley (1940) showed no gonadotropic effects on female rats and Johansson and Johansson (1958) clearly demonstrated the absence of any human sex hormones. Recently though, with much more sensitive radio-immunological methods, testosterone has been identified in extremely small quantities: 0.012 ~g/g fresh weight (Vittek and Slomiany, 1984). In comparison, a human male produces daily 250,000 to 1 million times the amount present in one gram of fresh royal jelly (Schmidt and Buchmann, 1992). No biological effect has been demonstrated for such small amounts.

Numerous minor compounds, belonging to diverse chemical categories, have been identified in royal jelly. Among these are two heterocyclic substances, biopterine and neopterine at 25 and 5 ijg/g of fresh weight respectively. These compounds are found in the food of worker bee larvae too, but at about one tenth of these concentration (Rembold, 1965). Other substances identified include several nucleotides as free bases (adenosine, uridine, guanosine, iridin and cytidine) the phosphates AMP, ADP, and ATP (Marko et al., 1964), acetylcholine (1 mglg dry weight, Henschler, 1954) and gluconic acid (0.6% of fresh weight, Nye et al., 1973).

Physiological effects of Royal Jelly

Indications

Effect

References

Premature bebies and those with nutritional deficiencies of various origins

8-100 mg orally, improvement of general condition; increase in weight, appetite, red blood cells and haemoglobin

Malossi & Grandi, 1956

Prosperi and Ragazzini, 1956

 Prosperi et al., 1956

Elderly (70-75 years), anorexic, depressed and low blood pressure patients

20 mg injected every second day, improvements on all accounts 20 mg taken orally every second day, improvements as above

Destrem, 1956

 Destrem, 1956

Psychiatry

Improvements of asthenia, nervous breakdown, emotional problems and counteraction of side effects of psychoactive drugs

Telatin, 1956

General metabolism

Mixture or royal jelly, honey and ginseng, improvements in weight gain and psychological conditions, but changes of blood characterisics

Borgia et al., 1984

Stimulating metabolism

Stimulating effects comparable to that by proteins, effect assumed to be due to activity of enzymatic complexes

Martinetti and Caracristi, 1956

Wound healing

5-30 mg/ml injected into burn blisters, improved regrowth of skin

Gimbel et al., 1962

Clinical Uses of Royal Jelly

As a nutrient

Royal jelly belongs to a group of products generically described as "dietary supplements" These are products which are consumed not for their caloric content nor for pleasure, but to supplement the normal diet with substances in which it might be lacking. In reality, however, the use of royal jelly is not so much linked to its high content in "noble" substances, but to its assumed stimulant and therapeutic value. However, it cannot be defined as a medicine because the data required for classification in this category are lacking. If it were declared a medicine, its use would become dependant on medical prescriptions and the production and marketing of royal jelly-based products would become the exclusive domain of the pharmaceutical industry.

A large amount of royal jelly is sold and consumed as it is harvested. In its unprocessed, natural state, it is preferred by most producers, because it does not require any special technology, and by consumers because of its unaltered "naturalness". The fact that its taste is not very pleasant, instead of deterring consumers appears to enhance its image as a "medicine". For those who do not appreciate this particular medicinal aspect, royal jelly can be mixed with a little honey, sugar syrup or water, or it may be encapsulated.

Unprocessed royal jelly is usually packaged in small, dark glass bottles of sizes that correspond to the duration of a "treatment" e.g. 10, 15 or 20 g. A tiny plastic spatula is usually included for the "correct" dosage of 250 - 500 mg, Special isothermal packaging (usually a moulded polystyrene box) is sometimes used to make the product look even more precious and protect it perhaps from brief temperature fluctuations.

Producers also sell pure royal jelly in its original queen cells after having removed the larvae and sealed the cells. The cells may be sealed with another wax queen cell cup, with liquid wax or by squeezing the ends of the cell together. The queen cells thus prepared can be packaged in small plastic boxes or glass jars together with a small spatula. The main disadvantage of this type of packaging is that the royal jelly does not keep well (two weeks in a refrigerator or a few months when frozen immediately) and only sells well directly from the producer to the consumer. On the other hand such sales can be extremely profitable and are also attractive to consumers who can be sure that the product is untreated and fresh. Given the normal variation in content of queen cells the net weight must be given for the smallest possible quantity (e.g. minimum content 250 mg/cell).

Royal jelly sold in any of the above forms must always be kept at or below 5~ C during storage, during transportation and in the retail store. Empty packages can be displayed while full containers are stored in a refrigerator.

As a medicine

In medicine-like formulations royal jelly is generally included for its stimulatory effects. However, it is also used to solve specific health problems. A variety of formulations is available, often containing ingredients otherwise used to alleviate particular afflictions. As has been seen in an earlier section, there is no solid scientific base for any such uses. Advertising or other popular information should therefore be treated with great caution and royal jelly should never be used as a substitute for other treatments unless the treatment has been approved by a competent physician.

Whether royal jelly is the only active ingredient, or is mixed with others, the basic forms of presentation remain the same and are adapted to the desired applications or consumer preferences. Dosages may be presented in any of the following ways:

  • As a single dose package of dry royal jelly with separate solvent.
  • As a single dose of mixed pulverized ingredients with or without solvent and in tablet or capsule form.
  • As a single or multiple dose liquid solution for oral administration or injection.

Single-dosage packages generally have to use a filler to bring the dose of the active ingredient (royal jelly or the ingredient mix) to a volume that can be easily handled by the consumer. An envelope containing only 250 mg of freeze-dried royal jelly would look very empty and the powder it contained might easily be lost. Sugar, salt, aromas, citric acid, glycine, a.o. may all serve as fillers. As well as being mere fillers, they often render the product more pleasant to taste. Additional ingredients mixed with royal jelly are often other food supplements like plant extracts (ginseng), yeasts, pollen extracts and others.

Most packages provide the dry phase in a separate package, envelope or vial and a solvent in an appropriate container. Not only does this separation allow more effective treatment of the liquid phase (such as pasteurization or sterilization) but it also improves storage life and therefore facilitates shipping and marketing. Some refined packaging contains the dry phase in a special lid which upon opening releases the powder into the solvent.

In tablet form, the principal excipient is usually a powdered sugar plus a binding agent such as gum arabic. For larger production, tableting machines are necessary which can sometimes be purchased second-hand at reasonable prices. Hard and soft gelatine capsules can be used for similar formulations. The hard capsules can be filled by hand on a small scale or by machine on a more industrial level, but soft capsules and gelatine drops need expensive equipment and are usually manufactured only by larger enterprises or under contract by large enterprises for third parties.

Another form of presentation is in vials with a liquid solution of royal jelly. These are simple to prepare and can use fresh unprocessed royal jelly, but they present preservation problems both with regard to microbiological activity and the long-term stability of the royal jelly. The addition of a little alcohol or propolis extract increases protection against microbial growth. Such preparations are distributed widely and are now being imported mostly from Asia by Europe, the USA and some Latin American countries . One of the more common formulations contains honey, royal jelly and an alcohol extract of ginseng. Since these products are not regulated as food or as medicines, they are not required to list all ingredients, particularly the different preservatives which are necessary in these liquid formulations.

The production of injectable royal jelly preparations must be left to qualified laboratories in order to avoid problems with contamination and toxicity. There are patents that protect the production of royal jelly extracts for human use (by injection), but up to now there is no actual production or use for these "medicines", at least in Western Europe.

The medicinal or pseudo-medicinal use of royal jelly is much more popular in Asia and Eastern Europe, where rules on medicinal formulations and applications are very different from those in Western Europe and North America. In Africa, very little use of royal jelly has been reported, either as a food supplement or as medicine.

As a cosmetic

Except in Asia, probably the largest use of royal jelly is in cosmetics. Royal jelly is included in many dermatological preparations, but mostly in those used for skin refreshing, and skin regeneration or rejuvenation. It is also used in creams or ointments for healing burns and other wounds. It is usually included in very small dosages (0.05 to 1 %) but it is likely that it deteriorates relatively quickly. No precise data on loss of effectiveness are available. The freeze-dried form of royal jelly is usually preferred because of ease of handling. A royal jelly/lactose paste mixed at 00C is said to stabilize royal jelly (Rubinsstein, 1954). The paste can then be added to cosmetic preparations.

Storage of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly has a limited shelf-life. Early beliefs in the extreme instability of royal jelly activity, based on the alleged rapid loss of the "queen determination" factor have not been confirmed. Since neither the mode of activity nor the actual effects of royal jelly are known, there are no data available on changes in its biological effectiveness on humans after long term storage.

Information is, however, available on changes in composition due to long term storage, such as a higher acid titre, a large unsoluble protein fraction, less free amino acids, less glucose oxidase and others (Takenaka et., 1986 and Karaali et al, 1988). Such changes make it appear likely that also biological activity is influenced by storage. Refrigeration and freezing delay and reduce the chemical changes. Although freeze-dried jelly is the most staable form of royal jelly, some changes still take place.

On the basis of the above, we can conclude that refrigeration of royal jelly at 0~ to 5 0C is a minimum precaution. Still better is storage, whenever possible, at temperatures below -170C, which is attainable in most household freezers. Since royal jelly is an emulsified product and not cellular tissue, freezing presents no particular problem and common household freezers can be used.

As there are no criteria for establishing "safety" limits for product activity, storage and shelf-life should be kept as brief as possible. For products sold in Europe, the average recommended storage time after production is 18 months under refrigeration. For products stored at - 170 C, storage can be extended to 24 months. After defrosting and packaging, the product should not be stored in a refrigerator for more than 12 months.

Freeze dried royal jelly and royal jelly based products are generally stored at room temperature, sometimes for several years. Freeze-dried royal jelly is certainly more stable than the fresh product, but it was reported that only during the first two months of storage at room temperature no signs were observed of any deterioration (Okada et al., 1977). Therefore, also in this case cold storage is recommended to minimize changes and products should be kept on the shelf for as short a time as possible.

The storage recommendations for fresh and dried royal jelly are valid in the same way for all wet or dry products to which royal jelly has been added. Contrary to many recommendations on packages, these products should be stored in the same manner as the pure, fresh jelly.

In 1956, a French patent was granted for a method of stabilizing royal jelly by mixing it with an easily assailable, adsorbent substance such as a carbohydrate or protein. A homogenized paste of 10 g fresh royal jelly with 100 g of lactose, mixed at 00C was proposed by Jean (1956). However, no evaluation or verification of increased shelf-life is available. Such support substances, often sugars but also glycine are frequently used to increase the volume of single doses of freeze-dried royal jelly, to make handling easier for both packers (weighing of very small quantities is both difficult and imprecise) and customers.

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