The royal jelly of bees can help heal wounds, study finds

Next time you cut your finger, you might want to stop off at your local beekeeper on the way to the pharmacy. A new report published in Nature points to evidence that royal jelly produced by bees can be used an effective material to heal wounds.

Royal jelly is secreted from the heads of honeybee workers, and is used to feed larvae in the colony. When a new queen is needed, if the old one is dying or if there’s a bee-sized Game of Thrones, then the workers will feed a number of larvae copious amount of royal jelly. The chemicals in the milky-white goo will trigger the growth of queen body parts, such as ovaries for laying eggs.

The study, led by a team at the team at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, sets out to provide evidence-based backing for anecdotal signs that royal jelly can be used to speed up the human body’s healing process. The scientists identified one molecule in particular – a peptide protein called defensin-1 – that stimulates cell recovery.

Defensin-1 helps kick off the work of fibroblasts and keratinocytes; two types of cells in the epidermis that are responsible for producing an enzyme called metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9). This molecule catalyses the production of new cells to be used for wound healing. “Defensin-1 stimulated MMP-9 secretion from keratinocytes and increased keratinocyte migration and wound closure in vitro,” the researchers write. “In addition, defensin-1 promoted re-epithelisation and wound closure in uninfected excision wounds.”

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(Above: Queen larvae surrounded by royal jelly. Source: Wikimedia commons) 

The scientists first tested isolated defensin-1 on keratinocytes in a petri dish. After the cells significantly increased the production of MMP-9, the experiment moved onto the backs of living rats. Four cuts were given to the skin of the anesthetised animals – one treated with isolated defensing-1, one treated with royal jelly, one treated with a neutral gel and one left untreated.

15 days later, both the royal jelly and isolated definsin-1 had helped the wounds to close completely over. The other two cuts had only partially closed. “Taken together, histological analyses showed that royal jelly as well as defensin-1 promoted a complete re-epithelialisation of the wound surface and scar formation in the dermis,” the scientists concluded.

Royal jelly is sold as a food supplement in a range of health stores, although there is little evidence that digesting it has any real benefits for humans. The evidence from the researchers at the Slovak Academy of Sciences suggests, however, that there’s genuine potential for it to be used as an effective wound dressing.

Less scientific, I’d recommend reading Roald Dahl’s excellent short story, ‘Royal Jelly’, about a man who feeds the special goop to his daughter. It was also adapted into a short film starring Timothy West.

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