There are many claims for the amazing effects and the efficacy of royal jelly in humans to: extend life; reduce inflammation and infections; protect the brain and the liver; control blood sugar and insulin levels; lower cholesterol; improve bone health; prevent breast and other cancers; improve eyesight; increase libido; increase fertility; reduce PMS symptoms and many more besides.
I’ve spent some time identifying and evaluating the scientific research that underpins these claims and I found it very difficult to untangle the real science from the hype, extrapolation, misinterpretation and over-interpretation that is associated with the research into royal jelly. I found that hugely inflated and ill informed claims are being made on the back of rather dubious, small scale research studies that were mostly conducted on rats or mice. Oddly, nearly all of the studies were conducted in Japan.
Now, most of us are not trained scientists so it is almost impossible for the consumer / man-in–the-street to critically evaluate scientific research; to understand what it really means; just how reliable it is; and most importantly, how to put it into a sensible context. C.P. Snow summed it up this problem perfectly in his famous essay: ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’. His view was that: “the intellectual life of the whole of western society was split into two cultures, the sciences and the humanities” and that “the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into ‘it ‘as their neolithic ancestors“ (‘it’ being science in general and physics, in particular).
It is this widespread scientific illiteracy, found in the general public and in otherwise well-read and well-educated people that is cynically exploited by the proponents, purveyors and pushers of royal jelly and its like.
Science is not a mystical, black box and it proceeds in small, logical, well documented steps. Someone has an idea (hypothesis); for example about how a compound, like royal jelly, might have an effect and they set out to test the hypothesis to see if it can be proven (or dis-proven). The search for scientific ‘proof’ or knowledge usually begins in the test tube using human or animal cells, proceeds to experiments using animal models (usually mice or rats) and finally to small, then large scale studies in human beings.
A single study or finding does not mean very much on its own; its just a starting point for more investigation and research. This might sound counter intuitive, but scientific studies are not perfect; may be difficult to perform; are often expensive and time consuming; and sometimes give contradictory results. Good science is a group enterprise and what happens is that scientists try and replicate research findings and then all the different types of well-designed studies, on a particular phenomenon, are grouped together (pooled) and the scientists look at see where the majority of the evidence lies. If a lot of different research all points in the same direction and reaches the same conclusion, then there is strong evidence that the idea (hypothesis) is true.
If on the other hand, if there isn’t very much research into an idea or an effect and the research that exits is mostly limited to the test tube or animal models then the idea remains unproven; not necessarily false, but with not enough evidence to show it to be true. This is the case with royal jelly.