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Elucidating the “miracle” of royal jelly

Those “miracle” natural substances that people have been using for centuries or even millennia are useful because of the chemicals they contain. Sometimes, the stories are not true and there is nothing beneficial in those false miracle products. But when they effectively treat a human (or animal) condition, biochemists and phytochemists will work hard to identify the chemicals that confer the natural substance its power. The process is hard and time-consuming, but eventually, we find the key chemical. Sometimes, there is more than just one active chemical, like it’s the case of tea leaves (EGCG, caffeine). It gets even more interesting when the biochemist finds the mechanism of action. Finding the mechanisms of action opens the door to the organic chemist making synthetic chemicals that may be even better than the original.

Skin Actives uses many pure chemicals originally found in small concentrations in one plant or another. Examples? Apocynin, ascorbic acid, caffeine, and so many more.

What are the advantages of identifying the active chemical in a natural substance? Many. If the chemical in question is present at low concentrations, lots of the source material will be required, and that could be problematic for the subsistence of the plant or animal in question. The source material may contain other problematic chemicals, that could cause allergies or toxicity in humans. From the point of view of costs, the synthetic chemical is usually less expensive than purifying the natural chemical, a process that may include numerous steps in the laboratory. The more purification steps, the lower the yield and the larger the amount of material you will have to start with.

What chemicals give honey and royal jelly, products of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) hard work, their power? They have been used for millennia to help with wound healing.

Historically, honeybee products, such as honey and royal jelly, have been used to treat injuries. Let’s leave honey and propolis for another post; here, I want to deal with royal jelly; it’s secreted from worker bees hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands, and its the substance used to nourish the larvae. Royal jelly has antimicrobial and immunomodulatory properties and also has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activity; it contains water, proteins, simple sugars, fatty acids, and special fatty acid,  10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10-HDA), trace minerals, and vitamins (pantothenic acid, a.k.a. vitamin B5, pyridoxine, a.k.a. vitamin B6, vitamin C, etc.).

Which chemical gives royal jelly its antibacterial and wound healing activity? It’s a small protein, defensin-1, and it works by stimulating metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) secretion from keratinocytes and  increasing keratinocyte migration and wound closure. Defensin-1  from bees promoted re-epithelisation and wound closure in uninfected excision wounds. Topical application of royal jelly to diabetic foot ulcers accelerated wound healing.  There were other effects, like alteration of the concentration of various lipids involved in the wound healing process, increased production of type I pro-collagen and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) by fibroblasts.  This doesn’t mean that defensin 1 is the only chemical involved in the healing activity of royal jelly, the special fatty acid associated with royal jelly, 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10-HDA), induces involucrin, transglutaminase-1, and filaggrin protein production by human keratinocytes.

Try and guess! Which special skincare company is working hard to make bee defensin-1 available to its customers?

Happy Easter, Semana Santa, and Easter! Ramadan/Eid Mubarak!


Bucekova, M., Sojka, M., Valachova, I., Martinotti, S., Ranzato, E., Szep, Z., Majtan, V., Klaudiny, J.  & Majtan, J. (2017) Bee-derived antibacterial peptide, defensin-1, promotes wound re-epithelialisation in vitro and in vivo . Sci Rep 7, 7340.

Molan P. C. The role of honey in the management of wounds. Journal of Wound Care. 1999;8(8):415–418. doi: 10.12968/jowc.1999.8.8.25904.

Sugiyama T., Takahashi K., Mori H. Royal jelly acid, 10-hydroxy-trans-2-decenoic acid, as a modulator of the innate immune responses. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets. 2012;12(4):368–376. doi: 10.2174/187153012803832530.

Kim J., Kim Y., Yun H., et al. Royal jelly enhances migration of human dermal fibroblasts and alters the levels of cholesterol and sphinganine in an in vitro wound healing model. Nutrition Research and Practice. 2010;4(5):362–368. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2010.4.5.362.
Park H. M., Hwang E., Lee K. G., Han S.-M., Cho Y., Kim S. Y. Royal jelly protects against ultraviolet B-induced photoaging in human skin fibroblasts via enhancing collagen production. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2011;14(9):899–906. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2010.1363.
Siavash M., Shokri S., Haghighi S., Shahtalebi M. A., Farajzadehgan Z. The efficacy of topical royal jelly on healing of diabetic foot ulcers: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. International Wound Journal. 2015;12(2):137–142. doi: 10.1111/iwj.12063.