RHR: The Health Benefits of Bee Products, with Carly Stein

RHR: The Health Benefits of Bee Products, with Carly Stein

by Chris Kresser

Last updated on

Bee products like propolis, royal jelly, and unpasteurized honey can strengthen your immune system, improve your memory, and even help you sleep. In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, Beekeeper’s Naturals founder Carly Stein joins me to talk about these and other health benefits. Stay tuned for a special offer, so you can try bee products for yourself.

Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What the research says about bee products
  • How Carly created Beekeeper’s Naturals
  • The health benefits of honey
  • What you should know about propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly
  • Why global bee populations are in trouble—and how you can help
  • How you can get a 25 percent discount at Beekeeper’s Naturals

Show Notes:

Hey, everybody, it’s Chris Kresser. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week I’m really excited to welcome Carly Stein as my guest. Carly is the founder and CEO of Beekeeper’s Naturals, a natural health product company developing innovative bee-made nutraceuticals to provide effective natural solutions to modern health problems. Carly is committed to using her company as a platform to raise awareness and funding for the bee cause and promoting sustainable practices and pesticide-free beekeeping.

Carly was recently named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, which recognizes young entrepreneurs. Before founding Beekeeper’s Naturals, Carly worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in their securities division and spent time working at the William J. Clinton Foundation.

So I have had a long interest in hive products like honey and propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly. They are incredibly potent natural substances with a variety of healing properties, which can often be as effective or more effective than conventional alternatives with far fewer side effects.

So if you’ve been following my work for some time, you know that I have often recommended raw honey, unpasteurized honey, for everything from upper respiratory infections to wound healing, including staph infections on the skin, and even hospitals now are using honey for this purpose. And these products from the hive are just pretty amazing, and when you understand the bees and bee colonies and behavior, it makes it even more fascinating.

So I’m excited to dive into this conversation with Carly and talk about these hive products, how they can support our health, and then how we can work toward creating healthier bee ecosystems so we can continue to enjoy these hive products. So hope you enjoy the conversation. Let’s dive in.

Chris Kresser:  Carly, thanks for being here. I’ve been really looking forward to this.

Carly Stein:  Thank you so much for having me.

What the Research Says about Bee Products

Chris Kresser:  So I recently came across a really interesting study, 2018 in BMJ, and it was looking at what treatments are effective for common cold in adults and children. And they found very little evidence to support the use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. And more specifically, they found that cough suppressants don’t really help children cough less and antihistamines and decongestants don’t really help them sleep better. And they also found clear risk for using these medications in young children, especially under two years old, but even all the way up to six years of age. And the effects range from hallucinations to cardiac arrhythmias to depressed levels of consciousness.

They improve wound healing, have antioxidant properties, and can boost your immune system during flu season—bee products can do it all. Check out this episode of RHR for more health benefits of honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. #healthylifestyle #chriskresser 

What I found especially interesting was that these same researchers who did this paper had done previous papers—one in 2007 where they found that honey was more effective than placebo, and dextrose, which is basically just sugar water, for cough and associated insomnia. And then there’s been several other studies since then, one that found that honey was more effective than agave syrup. So that was indicating that it’s not just giving kids a sugary something; there’s something unique to honey that actually is doing this. And then in 2012, an RCT that found that honey was more effective than a date-extract placebo on nighttime cough and difficulty sleeping in kids with an upper respiratory infection.

So, I mean, the honey part didn’t surprise me, because as as you know, I’ve been using honey for many years both prophylactically and therapeutically for colds and flus with myself and with my whole family. But I thought this was a really fascinating study to kick off our discussion because these OTC cough and cold medicines are so common. So many people use them and I think the assumption is just that they work. And yet this study showed that not only do they not work, they’re potentially dangerous, and we have this amazing natural substance, honey, that is more effective.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, it’s really interesting. There was actually some research looking at a specific  honey varietal, buckwheat honey, and comparing it to dextromethorphan, which is the active ingredient in a lot of the OTC cough and cold medicines, and it was also compared against a placebo, and they were looking at kids with upper respiratory tract infections. And they found that the buckwheat honey consistently scored the best in reducing cough frequency. It was most healthful to help kids sleep through the night, and it was rated most favorable by parents.

So honey is definitely an amazing alternative, and just kind of like what you were saying with the cold and flu medication, there’s so much out there that we are told to take that people are just kind of not really second guessing. And there’s natural options that are so much more effective and treat the more holistic picture of health.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I think we have this mistaken notion, unfortunately, that’s just really been drilled into us for many years, not just us, but our parents and our parents’ parents, that medications are more effective, stronger, more powerful, pharmaceuticals, I mean, than natural substances. And it’s almost like the only reason that you don’t take a medication is because you’re trying to avoid the potential side effects or risks and/or you just are the type of person who prefers natural substances. But I’m constantly reminding my patients that, no, actually, in some cases natural substances are far more effective than the medications that you could take as an alternative. And that’s what we’re seeing here in this data with the OTC cough and cold medicines.

Carly Stein:  Absolutely, and it’s so interesting, particularly when you look at bee products. I mean, of course, I’m deep into all the bee products, but the healing history. Before the advent of all of this sort of modern medicine, people were using these different bee products to treat issues that we still deal with today. And if you look at it across cultures, it’s just really interesting seeing what was done. So propolis, for example, there is history of the Incas drinking propolis to reduce fever.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Carly Stein:  The first recorded human use of propolis actually dates back to 300 BC. It’s said that ancient Egyptians used propolis. Hippocrates was a big fan of propolis, and Aristotle actually coined the term “propolis,” which means defender of the city. So all these different … in the Boer War they used propolis and honey to dress wounds. In the 17th century the London pharmacopoeia actually listed propolis as an official drug. So in my eyes, propolis is sort of the original antibiotic, and all of these bee products have played such an impactful role in human health before we had these sort of man-made and women-made substances.

How Carly Created Beekeeper’s Naturals

Chris Kresser:  Right. You are the bee lady now, perhaps, or the honey lady. But you weren’t always the bee lady, right? You were an analyst at Goldman Sachs in their securities division. So how the heck did you go from Wall Street to bees?

Carly Stein:  Yeah, not your typical trajectory. Yeah, so I used to work in finance, but growing up, I struggled with an autoimmune condition. I have arthritis, and a little bit of psoriatic arthritis, as well. And so I was just kind of dealing with some pretty intense inflammatory conditions, and then beyond that, I was always sick. I had a really weak immune system, and I was just always under the weather. And then for me, antibiotics and a lot of over-the-counter medicines would trigger my psoriasis. So when I did get sick, I didn’t really have any traditional healing options. And that sort of pushed me to start exploring the world of natural health because I was just really searching for a cure. And I ended up just trying to solve my own problem doing a ton of research and kind of really falling in love with this space.

But I found myself very frustrated with the products that were available, especially on the immune-boosting side. Because there was a lot of interesting products out there that were nicely branded and heavily marketed, but they just weren’t effective enough to help me really heal and recover. And so I was in love with the natural world but sort of disillusioned with the natural products. And that was just sort of the space I existed in. So I’ve always had this passion for natural health, but I just didn’t know I could make a career out of it. And how the bees kind of came into play, when I was in college I did a semester abroad, and I got really, really sick. I had really severe tonsillitis and I was going to have to come home and have surgery.

And I was looking for anything to keep me out there, and I went into a pharmacy in Florence, Italy, and the pharmacist gave me this stuff called propolis. I had no idea what propolis was at the time, and I didn’t know that bees did anything beyond honey, but I was desperate. So I tried it, and not only did I not have an adverse reaction to it, but I made a full recovery. And for me, propolis really functioned in my body the way antibiotics do for most people struggling with any sort of viral issue. It was … I think it took me about a week to recover, but I experienced recovery, and that was just so new for me. And I was able to continue my studies abroad, and it just sparked this interest and this kind of obsessive fascination with bee products. And it was really interesting as well—Europe’s a little bit more progressive with natural health.

Chris Kresser:  Yes.

Carly Stein:  And it was like in pretty much everywhere I traveled. From Copenhagen to Barcelona, I could find propolis and royal jelly and pollen at corner stores, in many cases. And so I was, I was personally experiencing the benefits and then just kind of struck by the fact that this stuff is so widely accepted and accessible all across Europe, yet I’m pretty well researched when it comes to natural staff and I haven’t even come across this in North America.

So I was really just obsessed with these products as a consumer healing myself. And then when I came home I couldn’t find bee products, I couldn’t find propolis and royal jelly anywhere. And then when I did, it was at farmers markets, and no individual could really speak to me about pesticide exposure. And that’s another thing I have to be really careful of, with what I put in my body, just with all my autoimmune stuff. So because nobody could guarantee a pesticide-free source and it was pretty limited in terms of finding anything beyond honey to begin with, I was just, like, okay, I guess I have to start beekeeping and do this myself. And that’s how it started.

And the second I started beekeeping, my obsession grew. I just love working with the bees. It’s just kind of like this endless world to discover. There’s so many medicinal applications to the different bee products, and the bees themselves are just such an important creature to our ecosystem, and I really just completely fell in love with it. And it became this, like, weird, quirky hobby of mine. And I had dreams of doing something in that area, but I graduated college and I got a job at a hedge fund out of school, and that sounds a lot better to your family and friends than starting a bee product company. So I did that.

I didn’t really have the confidence to start a company at that time, and I was kind of following a more traditional trajectory. And so I go into finance and I end up at Goldman and I’m working insane hours. I learned a lot, but it just, it wasn’t for me. The work I was doing wasn’t the sort of work that I personally care about, and I ended up becoming really depressed. And so then I sat down with myself because depression is not sustainable, and I made a spreadsheet about happiness and what I can do to get there and when I’ve been the happiest in my life. And the thing that I kept coming back to was working with the bees and making bee products. And it became really clear, that’s just what I have to do.

So I kind of picked up my hobby again, and I was like, “You know, I’m not going to do anything crazy. I still have my day job. This will just be a sort of weekend and evening affair.” And I started making bee products. And I would stand at farmers markets on weekends and sell them, and all my friends thought I was completely insane, but I loved it. And because … so, I started off really kind of catering to the autoimmune protocol community because it’s the community I’m a part of, where there’s not many options available. And we really gained traction. People would buy my products that I would make in my apartment at the farmers market and then start sending it to their friends and family around the country. And before I knew it, I had to set up a website, and I was shipping all over North America, and then stores starting approaching us in Canada. I’m from Canada originally.

And it got to a point where we were in over 500 stores across Canada and shipping internationally. And I was still working this, like, crazy 16-hour day on the trading floor. And I was like, “Okay, someone’s gotta run this thing, and it’s gonna be me.” So I finally left my stable job at the end of 2016 to go full time at Beekeeper’s Naturals, and that’s kind of how it happened. So it’s a cool story, I think, because it wasn’t like I found something interesting and saw an opportunity in the market. It was just this really organic journey of healing myself and then sort of beginning to share that, and then ending up healing myself in every way possible.

Chris Kresser:  Wow. Yeah, that is a fantastic story. I have a similar story, of course, and when the work that we do comes out of our own journey back to health, I think it’s, there’s such a richness there and such a commitment and a passion for what you do when you’ve experienced those benefits yourself personally.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, absolutely. It’s really special when it comes from such an authentic and personal place. And, I mean, that definitely frames our company and our culture. And the team we’ve built, they all have a unique story and unique reason why they love bee products and care about the bees. And it’s just really beautiful to see a team that comes at it from that angle and is sort of aligned on values to create things.

The Health Benefits of Honey

Chris Kresser:  So let’s talk a little bit more about hive products, starting with honey. Up until relatively recently—and it’s not uncommon now to see raw honey and wild honey in health food stores—but certainly growing up, my experience of honey was the little plastic bear bottle as something you put on, like, a peanut butter sandwich or something like that. But there’s so much more to honey than that.

Carly Stein:  Absolutely.

Chris Kresser:  And I would love to talk a little bit more about some of its properties. Antimicrobial, expectorant, antioxidant, and then some of its wound-healing properties, which I have some personal experience with that I”ll share as well.

It’s Full of Good Bacteria (When It’s Unpasteurized)

Carly Stein:  Amazing, yeah. So first of all, the squeezy-bear honey. I used to eat those too, and that’s actually not really honey because it’s pasteurized. And that’s something that, that’s kind of the place I like to start when people dig into the health benefits of honey—it’s that you really need to make sure that it’s raw and unpasteurized. Because the process of pasteurization, it just cooks all of the nutrients out. You’re heating it to a pretty high degree and you’re left with sugar water. And the reason that people will pasteurize honey is because it doesn’t crystallize. So it stays liquidy in the squeezy bear.

But raw honey will crystallize over time, it will harden, and that does not mean that it’s bad. That’s a totally natural process, and you can still, I have crystallized honey in my tea right now. And if you want to change the consistency because you’re cooking with it, what I typically do is I’ll just boil a pot of water and I’ll throw the jar into the pot and I’ll let the honey soften a little bit. That’s not going to pasteurize the honey. You still kind of cook it to do that. But that’s a great way to soften it if you do need it for a specific recipe. But I’ve heard people get confused when honey gets hard and crystalized thinking it’s bad, when the reality is honey’s actually the only food on the planet that never expires. We’ve found honey in Egyptian tombs that was still nutritionally intact, and that’s an amazing testament to its nutritional profile and its enzyme content.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, we have to correct some of our misperceptions. It’s like most people’s experience of sauerkraut growing up might have been stuff that was in a jar in the condiment section of the grocery store, which was pasteurized and totally devoid of the healing benefits of the bacteria that it contains. So it’s always good to correct those perceptions because, as you said, like, that’s where all of the human benefit comes from, that non-pasteurized honey. What about the … some people, I think when they think about pasteurization, they think, “Oh, well, you know that’s also to keep us safe from any particular bacteria or things that might be in a raw, live product.”

Carly Stein:  Yeah, so I mean it’s the same as most raw foods. You want that good bacteria. The only time when I tell people to stay away from honey is when giving it to babies. You don’t want to give honey to kids under one years old just because they don’t have a fully formed digestive tract and it can be, botulism is a risk. That being said, for pregnant moms or breast-feeding moms, mothers have stomach acidity that can kill any potential germs or bacteria. So it’s totally fine for moms to eat raw honey. It’s just, don’t give it to your baby before they turn one.

It Has Wound-Healing Properties

Chris Kresser:  Right. So we know honey is antimicrobial, antiviral, perhaps. We know it can be an expectorant, it’s an antioxidant, it’s has been shown to be helpful in upper respiratory infections, or other viral infections, and then it has some remarkable properties for wound healing.

So my story around that, I have several, actually, with patients. But our daughter, when we were out staying in Point Reyes for a weekend—this is when she was only two, I think, maybe a little over two years old, and she had a mosquito bite on her face. And being only two years old, she couldn’t help scratching it. And it got really … she opened up a wound and then developed a staph infection on her face, which can be quite serious, of course.

And the standard thing there would be to take antibiotics or use antibiotic ointment. But I knew about the wound-healing properties of honey and that it’s actually being used in some hospitals for this purpose. And so we applied … I made a poultice with the honey and also some herbs, some antimicrobial herbs that are really powerful and can be effective against staph, and we just started applying it. And within a couple of days, I mean, it was significantly better. And I think after four to five days, it was completely gone. It was miraculous to see that. Even though I believed in it and I have had other experiences in the past, when it’s my two-year-old daughter and a serious, potentially life-threatening infection, it is a whole other story, level of commitment to that belief system.

Carly Stein:  Absolutely, yeah.

Chris Kresser:  And so it was just incredible to see that. And since then I’ve suggested it with many patients who’ve had wounds from any number of causes, injuries, trauma, etc., and the results have always been phenomenal. So it’s just, it’s amazing to me that we have this, again, abundant and although under threat substance, which we’ll be talking about later, that they can safely heal these wounds. And yet until very recently, we haven’t been utilizing it.

Carly Stein:  Yeah. Honey really is amazing for skin healing, and I like to take it one step further. I use propolis, actually, topically all the time. It’s so powerful for burns, and there’s also a lot of interesting studies on propolis and its ability to heal the skin. I came across a study and it found that propolis really decreased free radical activity in healing the wound beds, which supported the repair process. And propolis also shows positive collagen metabolism in the wound during the healing process. So it increases the collagen and content of tissue.

So a lot of cool stuff with propolis, and it’s also an anti-inflammatory agent. But, I mean, raw honey, of course, has trace amounts of propolis in it and has antiviral and antibacterial properties and antioxidants. So yeah, both of them are really fantastic for topical use.

It Can Help You Hack Your Sleep

One of my favorite things for honey as well—and this is one that not everybody knows about, so I always like to share—is using honey to hack my sleep. I don’t know if you’ve tried that at all, Chris.

Chris Kresser:  Tell us more about that.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, so I do a teaspoon of honey every night before bed, and I do it because when you have honey, it allows for a slow steady rise in insulin and it allows the tryptophan to cross the blood–brain barrier and then convert it into serotonin and then melatonin in the dark. So you’re kind of naturally supporting your body in that way. And then it can also be really helpful to regulate your sleep–wake cycle. Sometimes this happens, typically with women as they’re aging, but what happens, these times their glycogen levels will get depleted and it will cause them to wake up in the middle of the night. And honey, because of the slow release, it allows the glycogen to be, glycogen stores to be just sort of filled up in the liver and it allows for a more restful sleep.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, we will sometimes use a little bit of honey before bed and have found that it’s helpful that way, particularly for my daughter. But that’s interesting; I haven’t heard that as much before.

We had … so, earlier in the summer I had a crazy experience where my wife and I contracted a parasite from food, an outbreak in Berkeley, of all places. A bug called Cyclospora, which is a parasite that’s more common in South America. It was, like, some basil from Guatemala that had been washed in water that was contaminated and then was transported up here and distributed to a bunch of different restaurants in the Bay Area, particularly Asian restaurants. And we had eaten some pho at a Vietnamese restaurant with this basil. And so this parasite’s particularly difficult to treat.

We tried herbal approaches and it wasn’t effective, and then we ended up taking a drug called Alinia, which was effective, but then towards the end of my course of that, I developed an allergic reaction to the drug. Which has never happened to me before. And that allergic reaction is something called toxic epidermal necrolysis. So if you look it up, it’s pretty scary. It’s like 60 percent mortality rate, or something, 20 to 50 percent mortality rate. But my version, I think, was milder. I went to see the dermatologist, and he was like, “I don’t see many people walking around with this outside of hospital.” And so among … it almost manifests like burns on the body. And he suggested, gave me some steroid types of creams and other creams. And I was like, “Well, I want to see how some of this other, these other natural remedies that I’ve used for this kind of thing in the past, work.”

And so I got out the honey and was using honey and also CBD, mixing them together. I didn’t think to use propolis at the time, but the honey was amazing, again. Usually these sores can take a long time to heal, and they took awhile for me, and I did use other things. But every time I put the honey on, I felt immediate relief, and the itching was significantly decreased. So it was pretty amazing.

I’ve had so many of these kinds of experiences, either personally or with patients now, that I am definitely a true believer. Somebody asked me—I was doing a Q&A with the clinician training program that I do—and someone asked a kind of unusual question. They said, “If you could only choose two to four supplements or superfood kind of products to take with you in a crisis situation, like an earthquake or something like that, what would you choose?” And honey was definitely one of the four that I listed.

Carly Stein:  I mean, that’s a great one because it never goes bad and it has all the antibacterial healing properties.

Chris Kresser:  Exactly. And you can eat it.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, exactly.

Chris Kresser:  If things get bad, it’s a source of calories, right?

Carly Stein:  Why I’m always carrying around my bee products, just in case.

Chris Kresser:  I never would’ve thought of that, but when he asked me that question, I was like, yeah, absolutely. Honey would be on that list. It’s amazing.

Carly Stein:  It’s really interesting, exploring the topical benefits. And what you were just saying about the honey with the CBD, we actually had a customer write in the other day who has very severe eczema, like, very, very painful. And we actually make a CBD honey called B. Chill and what he was doing is he was taking the B. Chill honey, spraying in propolis, and then mixing it with a carrier oil and using that. And it’s, like, really cleared up his eczema. He sent in pictures and everything. It’s pretty amazing.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. The only problem I have with that treatment, with the honey treatment is, my dog was following me around licking me. That’s a small side effect, I think.

Carly Stein:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  If that’s the worse thing that happens, I can live with it.

Carly Stein:  You mean, if the side effect is dogs following me around, I will take that drug.

Chris Kresser:  That’s right. Absolutely. She licks me anyways, but with the honey it was particularly intense.

So, yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about some of the other hive products that I think people are less familiar with. We touched on propolis and its antimicrobial properties. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, and then, of course, there’s bee pollen and royal jelly. And I’ve been using some of these more often too. Particularly, I think, it’s the B. Powered, which is the honey and bee pollen and royal jelly together.

And when we feel like we’re getting sick or fighting something around here, our routine will typically be to use the propolis spray in our throats and then have some of the B. Powered. And it’s almost December. There’s been a lot going around and we’ve stayed remarkably healthy throughout the flu season. And that’s—and people are always asking me, “What do you do to stay healthy and what are your top remedies?” And I’m always kind of trying new things, but these honey products, or hive products, have been pretty amazing for us. And they’re really easy to get kids to take too, I have to say.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, no, I’m so happy to hear that, and it’s true, the substance from the hive has such incredible healing benefits. And just back to the study we kind of spoke about in the very beginning, with honey for chronic pediatric coughs and the fact that buckwheat honey was the specific type to be found effective. All honey is fantastic, but just in that study, buckwheat was found to be very effective. And we also know that buckwheat honey has some of the highest antioxidants of any honey varietal, and so we actually made this product for kids.

We combined our propolis with buckwheat honey, and we just came out with a throat spray for kids. And so for anybody who’s got a coughing little one who’s kind of struggling to take medicine, the propolis with buckwheat honey tastes pretty fantastic, and it is … it’s pretty easy to get people to try out. And that’s just a product I’m really excited about because it’s combining these different superfoods, and I love combining the different hive products like we do with the B. Powered. Because—and we’ll dig into all the benefits of the individual products—but one thing that’s really interesting that I’m constantly learning about with bee products is their synergistic effects.

So, for example, when you combine raw honey with royal jelly, it actually becomes a source of Bifidobacteria, and then propolis is prebiotic. And so with the B. Powered combination, which has all the hive superfoods in one, you’re getting a probiotic, a prebiotic, you’re getting all the immune-boosting properties. And it’s just really cool the way that bee products interact with one another.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. That’s true of herbs too and natural medicines, and it’s one of the reasons why it’s … In the conventional model, the idea is always to extract what they call the “active ingredient” and really just amplify that. But that’s often not as effective as taking the whole food or the whole plant and using the whole plant. So it’s always good to keep that in mind because there’s so much we still don’t even understand about how all these things interact and support each other and have a synergistic relationship.

What You Should Know about Propolis, Bee Pollen, and Royal Jelly

So, yeah, let’s dive in a little bit to the individual hive products like bee pollen and royal jelly and anything else you want to add about propolis. When would you think that using each of these? What are their various properties?

Carly Stein:  For sure. So maybe I should start as well just by letting people know what these different things are.

Chris Kresser:  That would be good.

Propolis Is Nature’s Antibiotic

Carly Stein:  Because often, people think propolis is a honey derivative and it’s kind of a different thing. So in the hives, the honey is the bee’s carbs, it’s their source of fuel, their energy. And what honey is made from, it’s made from floral nectars, whereas propolis in the hive, it’s very much used as the medicine or the immune system of the hive and it’s made from plant and tree resins. So to make propolis, bees will collect plant and tree resins, put it through their enzymatic process, and then they get this sticky amber-colored substance and they use it to line the hive and keep it germ free. And they even line the walls of the cells for the newborn baby bees to create a sterile environment for newborns.

And one really interesting thing about propolis in the beehive is, let’s say an intruder gets into the hive or a predator, like a mouse. It happens all the time. There’s honey and good stuff in there, a mouse will get in and what happens is the bees can sting the mouse and kill it. But they can’t physically pick up a dead rodent and carry it out of the hive. And just like with humans, having a cadaver in our living room would make us pretty sick. So decaying rodents in the middle of the hive would hypothetically kill everything. But what the bees will do is they’ll mummify the dead rodent in propolis, and the propolis is that powerful of a protective substance that it protects the entire hive from this decaying rodent in the middle of the hive.

Chris Kresser:  Wow. It’s so amazing to learn about bees like that.

Carly Stein:  It’s so cool.

Chris Kresser:  Their culture just blows me away. I mean, I’ve not gone as deep into the hive, I guess you could say, as you have. But just, their social organization and cohesion and the way that they work together and the strategies that they’ve come up with for working together as a colony just is amazing.

Carly Stein:  It’s so fascinating.

Chris Kresser:  It’s almost hard to understand. There’s an intelligence there that we do not really … can’t get our heads around, I think.

Carly Stein:  I totally agree. Yeah, it’s so interesting. They even make propolis mats at the front entrance of the hive so that the bees can disinfect as they come in.

Chris Kresser:  Wow.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, all these things they do with propolis, it’s so interesting. And for humans, propolis functions in very much the same way. Like I was saying before, I kind of call propolis nature’s antibiotic. It’s just a really natural, nourishing, protective substance. So propolis is:

  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory

So it’s really amazing for combating cold and flu. I use it both preventively, and then I also use it to recover.

So for me, I take propolis every single day, and it’s really helpful for me as well for fighting inflammation. And then if I’m feeling run down or I’m traveling or it’s cold and flu season, any situation where my health is just a little bit in high risk, I basically just double dose. So I’ll spray 10, sometimes 20 sprays a day if I’m feeling rundown.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Carly Stein:  But normal day to day, I’ll just do, like, three to five sprays. One of my good friends is a flight attendant, and she sprays it into her water bottles before she flies.

Chris Kresser:  I bet.

Carly Stein:  With the recycled air and all the free radical damage.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. I take it on flights too, I have to confess. I’m that guy who’s sitting there spraying it on the plane because I’m always a little reluctant to fly at this time of year because there’s just people hacking and coughing all around you. There’s nowhere to escape. So propolis is my friend.

Carly Stein:  Oh, yeah. And then also just the free radical damage. We’re exposed to so much radiation when we fly, and there was actually a study done and it looked at, I mean, this was a little bit different, but it was looking at competitive cyclists. And it was looking at propolis and its ability to combat oxidative stress that’s exercise-induced. So, like, the free radical damage you get from exercising. And it found that propolis was really effective at combating that kind of damage. So it’s really great. It’s really high in antioxidants, and it’s really great at just kind of combating free radicals and acting as an all-around protector.

Bee Pollen Is an Excellent Source of Protein

Chris Kresser:  Cool. So let’s move on to bee pollen. I think maybe some people may be a little more familiar with bee pollen. I remember, even, health food stores that I went into as a kid would sometimes have bee pollen. And I think the association there was with energy.

Carly Stein:  It’s so funny. Bee pollen is something that people have been taking for years and years and years while having no idea what it does.

Chris Kresser:  Exactly, yeah.

Carly Stein:  But it’s no complaints. It’s fantastic for you. So in the beehive, bee pollen is the bee’s main protein source. The bees will fly from flower to flower collecting pollen, and they mix it with their enzymes to pack it, and they bring it back, and it’s the protein source of the hive. It’s really fantastic for energy.

And then for humans, it’s really one of nature’s most completely nourishing foods. It contains nearly all nutrients required by humans and it’s really rich in protein. It’s over 40 percent protein; it’s full of free-forming amino acids; vitamins including B-complex vitamins, which helps with energy levels, has folic acid.

So, yeah, bee pollen is, it’s just, in my mind bee pollen is kind of like an all-natural food-based bioavailable multivitamin. And that’s really how I use it. I do a teaspoon on whatever I’m eating every morning, whether it’s putting it in my smoothie or topping toast or I’ll put it on salads. But it’s just a really great nutrient boost to whatever you’re having. And because it’s full of, especially if you’re having raw bee pollen, it’s full of the live enzymes. And so it’s really easily digested. And so it’s great for people with nutrient deficiencies as well.

Royal Jelly Is a Superfood

Chris Kresser:  And then royal jelly. This maybe the least familiar hive product, I think.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, royal jelly is the coolest. So royal jelly, you can think of royal jelly as the secret food of the hive. So just to break it down again for all the new bee product lovers out there, honey is the bee’s energy source; it’s their carbs. Propolis is their medicine, it’s the building blocks of their immune system. Pollen is their protein, vitamins, their energy-boosting food. And royal jelly is their superfood. Royal jelly is literally the substance used to create a queen bee.

So what happens with bees is for the first three days of development, all newborn baby bees are fed royal jelly, and then after the first three days they’re taken off their exclusive royal jelly diet and they move on to a more standard diet of pollen and honey. But the bee who is to become queen, the larva who is destined to be queen, she continues eating her diet of royal jelly. And how she evolves on this diet is pretty interesting. Because the queen bee … so she grows to a very different size than the regular worker bees. She’s much more robust.

The queen bee can lay up to 1,500 babies a day, whereas regular female bees don’t even have reproductive organs. And then the queen bee lives three to five years versus a regular bee, during foraging season, who lives six to eight weeks. So pretty amazing what’s happening there.

Chris Kresser:  She’s living exclusively on that royal jelly.

Carly Stein:  Exactly, yeah. So in the hive really interesting. And then for humans, royal jelly is one of those awesome superfoods that has been used across cultures. And we have a lot of anecdotal evidence pointing to different things. So people, like, for example, in traditional Chinese medicine, royal jelly is well-regarded as a substance to boost fertility and balance hormones.

So I see a lot of TCM practitioners who are giving royal jelly to their patients who are kind of coming off birth control, who are working on getting pregnant. For men and women, actually, it’s looked at as a fantastic hormone stabilizer and fertility tonic. And then royal jelly has great immune boosting and immunomodulatory properties. So it’s awesome for people who are autoimmune, such as myself. But in Western medicine, most of the studies have been pretty focused on royal jelly’s effects on the brain, and that’s really what we kind of spend a lot of time at Beekeeper’s Naturals researching with royal jelly.

So royal jelly is one of the only natural products to contain actual acetylcholine. So a lot of the products on the market, they contain choline, which is a precursor to acetylcholine, but royal jelly is the only source of actual acetylcholine, which is pretty awesome because acetylcholine is great for basically stimulating your—

Chris Kresser:  It’s neurotropic.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, exactly, for helping a healthy brain, for reducing your odds of neurodegenerative conditions, for brain healing, for focus, memory, concentration, acetylcholine is really important. And with royal jelly you’re getting a pretty high concentration of pure acetylcholine.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, that’s the only neurotropic that I’ve actually found makes a difference for me. And I’ve tried a lot, and it’s pretty amazing. Yeah, and a lot of my patients have had the same experience. It’s really, there are a lot of those products in my experience that either don’t really move the needle for most people or they produce a lot of uncomfortable side effects. It’s like plugging yourself into a socket. And you might have more your productivity or mental clarity, but you’re also bouncing off the walls and you feel really uncomfortable. But acetylcholine doesn’t tend to have that effect for most people.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, and it’s something that even if you’re not, it’s great because it will give you sort of the desired outcome of boosting memory and focus, but we have lots of customers who are members of the aging population who aren’t necessarily looking to increase their productivity. But they’re looking to just help their brain age in a healthy way and reduce their odds of these different things.

And so it’s something that, really that’s what we do with all of our products. We’re trying to really take that 360 approach and not just look at the symptom and how we can solve a sore throat or boost your mental clarity. We’re looking at how can we make your brain healthier on a holistic level and then have the outcome of that increased health and vitality be better memory, stronger ability to focus. And I think that’s a really important place to come at all these things from.

Why Global Bee Populations Are in Trouble—and How You Can Help

Chris Kresser:  Wow, just so fascinating. We could go on forever. We’ve got about 10 minutes left, and I want to talk a little bit about the bees and why bee colonies and ecosystems are so important and what’s happening right now in the world around that. I’m sure a lot of people have heard that bees are struggling. And I want to hear a little bit about just the landscape there and then what you’re doing to work towards healthier bee ecosystems.

Carly Stein:  Yeah, this is so important, Chris. So, I mean, bees are, honey bees are the world’s most important pollinators. There’s a lot of, a lot of the food we eat and flowers that cover our grounds, they can’t self-pollinate. They can’t reproduce on their own, and they actually rely on other creatures to help with pollination. So, some examples of this are almonds. Almonds, they can’t self-pollinate, they rely on bees to transfer the pollen. And there’s 70 of the world’s 100 most important food crops are actually bee pollinated. So, literally, these food crops cannot grow without the bees. So the bees are literally supplying our food for us. And the bees have been dying out in recent years.

And starting in 2006, when DDT was taken out of the game, it was replaced with a pesticide called neonicotinoids (or neonics). And neonics, they affect the bees’ spatial reasoning, and they’re pretty toxic to bees and probably to us. We just haven’t seen any strong studies there yet. They’re water-soluble, they’re degrading our soil, getting into our water supply, and that’s one of the many factors that’s really kind of causing bee decline.

Another big issue is global warming. Climate change is really kind of throwing bees off, and they’re losing their ability to hibernate over winter and come out at the right time. And things like mites, all of these factors together will reduce the bees’ immune system and make them susceptible to things like mites and different parasites, and then also just urbanization. We’re losing green space, and our green space, unfortunately, a lot of it is sort of, like, mass agro crops that are covered in pesticides and sort of done factory style.

So our environment has just really not been conducive to bee health. And because of that, the bees are in decline. And we cannot afford to lose the bees because like I said, they pollinate nearly one-third of our food supply and they also pollinate all of these different wildflowers and wild plants that other creatures rely on. For example, they’ll pollinate clover and alfalfa, which cattle graze on. So just the ripple effect of losing the bees on our ecosystem, it’s devastating. And like I said, we’ve seen year-over-year decline, which is really scary. So with Beekeeper’s Naturals, I’m a beekeeper first, and our team is very passionate about this. We’re a benefit corp. And we are really looking to start the conversation about the important role that bees play and also just kind of change the model of how bees are treated.

So we practice sustainable beekeeping. Everything we do is pesticide-free and we work with a third-party lab to do pesticide testing on all of our raw product. That, of course, makes it accessible to people with autoimmune and sensitive systems. And by the way, I kind of feel like all products should be third-party pesticide tested, but that’s a whole other argument. But in doing that, beyond the effects it has on the product quality, that’s how we can really ensure that we’re exposing bees to clean foraging grounds and giving bees actual clean green space that’s not coated in pesticides and see how they do. And what we’ve seen is our hives have done really well year over year. We’ve seen a lot of growth from our hives, contrary to population trends.

So on the production level, we work really hard to just keep that quality and keep it pesticide free to ensure our bees have clean food. And then we also do a lot on the awareness side, and we work with some different incredible organizations. We work with UC Davis bee research in the US and the Canadian Bee Research Fund in Canada. And we run different campaigns with them throughout the year. And, yeah, we’re just looking to really educate people right now and get people to start making a difference on the consumer level because I think that’s where it needs to begin. Unfortunately, big pesticide companies are not really going away right now in the US. There’s been some positive momentum in other parts of the world.

So, in Canada, for example, Ontario was the first province to institute a partial ban on neonics. There’s been some bans in Europe, but I mean it doesn’t seem to be around the corner, unfortunately, right now in the US.

So what I like to encourage people to do is do their part to create a bee-friendly environment and support clean food production. And it sounds pretty simple, but it really does make a big difference. Just creating a bee habitat in your lawn, even if you have a small space. I live in an apartment, and my balcony is just covered in flowers. Same with my window sill. Because everything is so coated in pesticides, giving the bees access to clean foods or just buying seeds or plants that are organic, untreated, pesticide free and placing them out there, it really makes a difference to our bees.

Chris Kresser:  Our front yard is swarming with bees and our backyard too. We have a lot of flowers and plants that we specifically planted for that reason. And a kind of a permaculture set up, and it’s just amazing to see how many bees will find their way to those sources of pollen.

Carly Stein:  It’s awesome. And it also helps your garden. I mean they pollinate it, they make it grow, and they make it beautiful.

And another thing to do to the extent you can, and I know this isn’t always an option, but I try really hard for the most part to be aware of the produce I’m buying. I really try to purchase pesticide free. And I do a lot of shopping at farmers markets. I know not everybody has that accessible, but if you can do your best to support growers who are growing things in the right way, it makes a really big difference.

And then just if you want to upgrade your bee habitat even more, a nice thing to do if you live in a place that gets hot is put out a little bee bath. Just like the birds, the bees get thirsty too, especially in the hot summer months. And so taking a little bowl, filing it with water and putting some mulch and rocks for the bees to perch on, really great way to help support them when it’s really hot out. Just because we don’t live in environments where there’s rivers around and all that stuff.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. It’s so important. I mean, I’m sure you saw this article in the New York Times a few days ago called “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here.” And they were talking about a German study that found in a nature reserve there that the overall abundance of flying insects has decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. And if you looked at the midsummer population peaks for insects, it was 82 percent drop.

That’s pretty apocalyptic. I didn’t have a good feeling when I got to the end of that article and just felt really motivated to see what I could do, we could do as a community, to raise awareness around this. What are the organizations that you think—if someone wants to go beyond planting a garden, which is an awesome first step and super important—but if they want to get involved or either contribute their time or money to an organization, what would you suggest?

Carly Stein:  So, first of all, if they want to get involved and start beekeeping, backyard beekeeping is an amazing way to create more of a bee-friendly environment and pick up a really cool hobby. And we have tons of information about that on our blog. We actually do a series on our blog called Unveiled—when you’re beekeeping, you usually wear a veil—where we unveil sustainable beekeepers from around the world just to kind of share good practices and encourage new beekeepers to come onto the scene, whether it’s having a hive in your backyard that someone else manages or getting really into it yourself.

And then you can also donate through our site. So we link to our charity partners. It’s all accessible at BeekeepersNaturals.com on the mission page. And with our apparel line as well, if you want to kind of rock the cause a little bit, we sell these different tees and hats, and we give a portion of proceeds back to our charity partners. And they say things like “Save the Bees” and “No Honey. Mo Problems.” And they’re good conversation starters about the cause.

How You Can Get a 25 Percent Discount at Beekeeper’s Naturals

Chris Kresser:  Cool. Well, I want all of you to get a chance to try some of these amazing products and benefit from them as much as we have. And Carly and her generous team over at Beekeeper’s have put together a bundle of some of my favorite products. This includes four of them: the bee propolis spray, which is great for immune support, scratchy throats, everything we talked about; the B. Powered, which is this super honey with royal jelly, bee pollen, bee propolis for immune support and energy—this is what we take if we feel like something is, like we’re getting a viral upper respiratory thing; the B. Chill hemp honey sticks—so this is a high-potency CBD oil, which you heard me talk all about the benefits of CBD, and then in an emulsion of MCT oil for bioavailability, so it’s great for sleep or stress or inflammation; and then the B.LXR Brain Fuel, which is a combination of royal jelly, ginkgo, and Bacopa, which are also neurotrophic substances, herbs. It’s great for memory and focus, brain health. If I have to sit down and write an article or create a presentation or something like that, I’ll just pop one of these and it just gives me a nice little boost in terms of mental clarity and ability to focus.

And they have generously offered a 25 percent discount for anybody that orders. So you can check this out at ChrisKresser.com/hive. And I want to give you a disclaimer that I am an investor in Beekeeper’s Naturals. You know that I’ve talked about other investments that I’ve made in the past on this show, and my strategy and philosophy in terms of investment is only to invest in companies that either I use their products myself, I use them with my patients, they have to have a strong social mission and be contributing to society and not just interested in growing their company themselves. And they really have to have a strong vision for how to make the world a better place.

So it’s a pretty high bar that I set for any investment that I make. And I was really excited when I learned about the Beekeeper’s opportunity. And I want to do everything I can to help support the company and their mission, in addition to just being an avid consumer of their products myself. So hope you enjoyed them as much as I have. ChrisKresser.com/hive, and Carly, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a fascinating conversation. And I hope we can have you back in the future to talk about the next generation of what you guys are up to.

Carly Stein:  Amazing. Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

Chris Kresser:  Okay, take care.

Carly Stein:  You too. Bye.

  1. I wonder if unpasteurized honey is enough or I should try to find unfiltered honey. “Raw” honey is not clear in its meaning.