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Royal jelly, a gelatinous secretion from bees, has been used as a dietary supplement and health aid for humans since prehistoric times. Like other bee products (including honey and propolis), royal jelly has been studied for its potential health benefits on everything from cancer to osteoporosis to Alzheimer’s to longevity. Another one of royal jelly’s purported benefits? Being a “fertility superfood,” thanks to possible antioxidant properties and nutritious contents.
The idea that royal jelly could have a role in fertility isn’t a particularly surprising take: One of the roles of royal jelly in bees (along with nourishment for bee larvae) is to develop the gonads of the queen bee! But can royal jelly help humans as they’re trying to get pregnant? First, it’s important to know that royal jelly is not approved as a health aid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that royal jelly may cause severe allergic reactions for those who are susceptible. But here’s what the research tells us so far: While animal studies suggest a few possible ways the substance could impact the reproductive system, as of right now, we don’t yet have solid evidence that the same is true for humans.
“Royal jelly is full of B-vitamins and may be anti-inflammatory,” explains registered dietitian Anna Bohnengel, MS, RD, LD. “It won’t hurt and will likely give you a boost, but only if it’s taken in addition to the foundational lifestyle steps — like eating well, being active, and managing stress.”
While fertility science is always evolving, there are big gaps in the research (and in women’s health research in general). Even if something isn’t validated by large-scale, randomized trials, that doesn’t mean it can’t have benefits for you as an individual. But, in an effort to help you make the right decision for you, we’re breaking down what we do know about the fertility-boosting claims of royal jelly and what we’re still waiting to find out.
When did royal jelly first start being used as a health aid?
Royal jelly was used as a dietary health aid by ancient civilizations worldwide. In prehistoric times, royal jelly was a nutritious “functional food” eaten by forest-dweller humans. Historically, though, its use was mostly restricted to royalty because of limited supply (claims here include Egyptian pharaohs, Pope Pius XII, and even Princess Diana!). Royal jelly is also sometimes recommended in traditional Chinese medicine for increasing energy and vitality, as well as preventing illness and disease.
So, how is royal jelly thought to boost fertility? It’s supposed to modulate specific sex hormone levels, and may also help regulate glucose levels in those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But is there evidence to back these claims up? The answer here is tricky because most studies have been with animals, but let’s see where the science falls.
Can royal jelly actually help you get pregnant? Here’s what the science says
Like we mentioned above, most of the research here, unfortunately, is on animals — which means we don’t yet know if royal jelly could have the same effects on humans. Below are some of the possibilities.
Royal jelly has some effect on the reproductive system, but we’re not sure exactly what
Even considering the limitations of the research in this area thus far, there’s reason to believe that royal jelly does affect the reproductive system — but we don’t know exactly how quite yet. There have been some possible links between royal jelly and reproductive outcomes demonstrated by animal studies:
- One review examined studies related to royal jelly and found that it has shown estrogenic effects, meaning it can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and cause changes. Whether this is beneficial for fertility or not is unknown.
- A small study of female rats found that royal jelly may promote follicular development (ovarian follicles are the small fluid-filled sacs that house and develop eggs) and increase levels of ovarian hormones.
- Another review included a study that found that royal jelly increased the litter size for rabbits.
Royal jelly has the potential to improve fertility in people with PCOS, but human studies haven’t been promising
Royal jelly has been shown to be an anti-diabetic in animal studies — meaning it may help people better manage their glucose levels. Insulin resistance, which can result in elevated levels of glucose in the blood, is a common feature of the hormonal condition PCOS (which is a leading cause of infertility). Connecting the dots here, royal jelly could have the potential to help improve fertility in people with PCOS. But recent human studies have not had promising results:
- A 2019 meta-analysis reviewed the few high-quality studies on royal jelly and glucose regulation in humans. While two studies showed improvements in fasting glucose levels after royal jelly consumption, three didn’t. The researchers concluded that the beneficial effects on glucose regulation weren’t statistically significant. That said, more improvements were seen in participants with diabetes versus those without. It’s important to note here, though, that these studies weren’t looking at people with PCOS specifically or measuring reproductive hormones and fertility.
- A review published in the same year had a similar conclusion. Here’s what the researchers wrote: “Quality of evidence suggesting that [royal jelly] is an effective modulator of glycemic regulation is low for long-term effects of [royal jelly], and very low for immediate effects.”
There’s also some evidence when it comes to royal jelly and the fertility of people with sperm
While there’s more evidence of royal jelly and improvements in fertility factors for people with sperm, this also comes from animal studies rather than human studies:
- One small rat study found that royal jelly can protect against the negative effects that some toxic compounds can have on male fertility (sperm motility and sperm count).
- But another equally-as-small rat study found no differences in sperm parameters when comparing male rats who did or did not get royal jelly treatment.
- One study found that royal jelly counteracted the negative effect that heat stress has on hormones and sperm parameters in male rabbits.
- It’s possible there’s too much of a good thing when it comes to the effects of royal jelly on reproductive function: One study found negative effects of royal jelly on the testes and on DNA integrity in male rats.
Are there any downsides to using royal jelly?
As royal jelly is classified as a natural supplement, it’s not regulated by the FDA. But the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that it could cause allergic reactions in people with other existing allergies, especially a bee or bee pollen allergy, as well as those with respiratory conditions like asthma. For people who are susceptible to allergic reactions or respiratory problems, the possible side effects likely outweigh the possible benefits of royal jelly. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any over-the-counter fertility supplements.
The bottom line: Do what’s right for you
As with anything fertility and wellness, what you do is up to you, your partner (if you have one), and your healthcare provider. If you’re not susceptible to allergic reactions or respiratory conditions, then using royal jelly is unlikely to have an adverse effect for you. Whether or not it’ll definitely improve your fertility, however, hasn’t yet been demonstrated by the results of large-scale human trials.
If you’re after more clinically proven ways of increasing your chances of conception, tracking ovulation and timing sex or insemination around your most fertile days are always great options.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Eva Marie Luo, MD, MBA, OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Clinical Lead for Value at the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.