When you hear the word pollen the first that may come to mind is allergies. But did you know pollen may also improve health? Pine Pollen has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese Medicine for its ability to improve many health conditions. This article will discuss pine pollen benefits and other important information relating to this supplement.
What is Pine Pollen?
Pollen is a mass of microspores in a seed plant. It appears as fine dust and comes from a variety of trees, flowering plants, and grasses. Each pollen grain varies in shape, structure, and is minute in size [R].
The pollen grain is formed by the male seed-bearing plant. It is transported by the wind, rain, and insects to the female structures where fertilization occurs. It consists of one or more vegetative cells and a reproduction cell [R].
Some of the pine tree species responsible for producing pine pollen include the following:
- Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
- Masson’s pine (Pinus massoniana)
- Chinese red pine (Pinus tabulaeformis)
History of Pine Pollen
Pine pollen has been around for thousands of centuries. Medicinal application of pollen from the Masson Pine (Pinus massoniana) tree was first used in Traditional Chinese Medicine during the Tang and Ming dynasty dating back all the way to 618 CE [R].
It’s health benefits were recorded in the first Chinese medical book, The Pandects of Materia Medica over 5,000 years ago.
Western society did not catch on to the benefits of pollen as a functional food until about the ’70s. Early research found pine pollen to be beneficial to athletes as a dietary supplement for weight management and prevention of some respiratory infections [R].
Further interest in pine pollen came after hearing about longevity with the habitual consumption of honey enriched with pollen in some residents of Ukraine and Russia [R].
This discovery set the precipice for a cascade of research to learn more about other possible benefits pollen could provide [R].
Pine Pollen Nutrition
Today, pollen has been deemed a functional food for its ability to provide almost all of the body’s nutrients.
It contains a significant source of essential fatty acids and carbohydrates [R].
Pine pollen also contains all 9 essential amino acids plus more: arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, tyrosine. These nutrients make it a complete protein.
- Vitamin D
- B complex vitamins
- Vitamin C
Pine Pollen Uses
Known as the “King of Pollen” in China, pine pollen is an omnipotent nutritional supplement used to alleviate fatigue, balance hormones, reduce aging, and prevent and treat disease [R].
Pine Pollen Health Benefits
Pine pollen health benefits include everything from anti-aging to improvements in energy and sex drive. Learn how the research stacks up against these claims.
Pine pollen gives the body it’s needed nutrients. Adequate protein and antioxidant intake are helpful to slow the aging process.
Protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are essential for hormonal health, building lean muscle, and supporting optimal energy levels. They have also been thought to be an anti-aging remedy.
Supplementation of amino acids was shown to have positive effects on muscle and texture of the neck skin in healthy young women after six weeks of treatment [R].
Pine Pollen reduces the aging process in both mice and human cells when given various doses of (500, 1000, and 1500 mg/kg) over a course of 8 weeks [R].
At the end of the treatment learning and memory along with indicators for antioxidant activity had increased in these animal trials [R].
Experiments show that both high and low doses of pine pollen can increase sperm count, mobility, and survival rate in aging rats. This indicates that pine pollen may be a good supplement for testicular health [R].
Though this shows promise for preventing age-related diseases more research needs to be done to see the true potential for helping anti-aging in humans.
May boost sex drive
Pine pollen is said to be an aphrodisiac helping to boost sex drive in both men and women.
Pine pollen extract from the Pinus patula ssp. tecunumanii could also be helpful for balancing testosterone.
Signs of low testosterone include cold extremities. Testosterone and temperature in both male and female hormone-deficient rats increased after three days of exposure to pine pollen from the Pinus patula ssp [R].
Pine pollen may be a good alternative to testosterone treatment pending human studies that show the same outcomes.
Balances hormone levels
Pine pollen naturally contains Phyto-androgens. These are substances that act like male sex hormones, particularly testosterone.
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA for short, is another hormone found in pine pollen. This is a hormone precursor that is needed to make sex hormone estrogen and testosterone [R].
The naturally occurring testosterone in pine pollen is thought to help offset high estrogen levels by balancing hormones naturally [R].
However, there are no specific studies on what quantities of pine pollen can balance testosterone and estrogen levels.
Inflammation is often the root cause of many health conditions and diseases.
Pine pollen contains many antioxidant compounds including polyphenols, carotenoids, and flavonoids [R].
These substances in pine pollen are known for their disease-fighting capabilities to lower inflammation in the body.
Test tube studies with pine pollen extract lowered inflammatory markers nitric oxide, tumor necrosis factor‐α, IL‐1, IL‐6, and lipopolysaccharides [R].
Mice treated with pine pollen had lower inflammatory markers after an 8-week treatment [R].
May prevent arthritis
Pine pollen extract may also be beneficial in treating arthritis by decreasing inflammation in the body.
For example, mice given pine pollen for 49 days had fewer arthritic symptoms and an overall decrease in the number of antibodies [R].
It is not known if these results can be replicated in humans so more research needs to be done on this topic.
May have anti-cancer benefits
Pine pollen may help prevent and treat certain cancers according to early research.
For example, application of a polysaccharide extract from pine pollen from the Masson pine (Pinus massoniana) tree prevented human liver cancer cells from multiplying [R].
Pine needle extract and essential oil from the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) act as a therapeutic agent to both treat and prevent cancer in breast cancer cells [R].
However, this work is all considered preliminary because no human studies on pine pollen and cancer have been carried out to date.
May improve immune system function
Pine pollen’s anti-antioxidant benefits and rich nutrient profile have been thought to help to improve the immune system [R].
Pine pollen improves immune function by preventing cell death in the brains of arsenic-poisoned mice [R].
Plant-derived carbohydrates can facilitate an immune response in the spleen cells of chickens. Cells in this particular study were treated within pollen from the Taishan Pinus massoniana pine, known as Taishan Pinus massoniana pollen polysaccharides (TPPPS).
Three fractions of the polysaccharide were found: TPPS1, TPPPS2, and TPPP3. These substances had different immunological effects on animals cells [R]:
- TPPPS1 has mainly antioxidant effects
- TPPPS2 elevates macrophage-related cytokine and TNF levels
- TPPPS3 elevates T lymphocyte-related cytokines IL-2
There are many ways that these compounds in pine pollen may improve immune function. Here are the preclinical study results we have so far:
- May reduce the production of a harmful virus called B Avian Leukosis Virus (ALV-B)
- May improve innate immunity and enhance adaptive immunity [R]
- Enhance macrophage activity [R]
- Supports immune function by providing many nutrients
- Enhanced immune responses of vaccines [R]
- Increase in CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocyte counts [R]
- Increases blood levels of cytokines IFN-γ, IL-2, and IL-4 [R]
- Protects from B. avium infection [R].
All of these studies, while conducted in animals, illustrate how pine pollen can strengthen the immune system and while human studies are needed, we can likely still benefit from the many ways pine pollen supports our immune system.
Improved mood and energy levels
Mood and energy levels may improve when eating pine pollen. Research in this area is limited to animal studies.
How might pine pollen improve mood? Flavonoids found in plants and trees have inflammatory and antioxidant fighting properties. These antioxidants are also thought to improve energy.
To test this theory, mice were given three doses of pine pollen flavonoids for 14 days.
The mice were then put to a series of swimming and pole climbing tests. Mice given the flavonoid from Pinus Massoniana pollen had the best recorded times along with increased liver glycogen storage and accelerated lactic-acid clearance after swimming [R].
All told, pine pollen likely supports a healthy mood by decreasing inflammatory compounds and is high in antioxidants, although we still need proof in clinical trials.
Liver health benefits
Pine pollen may have benefits to improve and also protect the health of liver cells according to preclinical research. Here is the research we have so far in regards to the benefits of pine pollen on liver health.
The pine pollen Taishan Pinus Massoniana pollen (TPPPS) has antioxidant properties as shown in liver cells of rats. TPPPS also was able to reduce oxidation from toxic compounds in this study [R].
Liver injury from toxins or processed foods can result in elevated liver enzymes. When given TPPPS, the liver enzymes including alanine aminotransferase (AST), aspartate aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) and malondialdehyde (MDA) all decreased against liver cell injuries [R].
Increases of antioxidant enzymes in the body may occur with pine pollen too, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase when given TPPPS. This shows pine pollen derivatives could protect cells from liver toxicity by ramping up the body’s antioxidant defenses [R].
May reduce BPH
Pine pollen also had a therapeutic effect in rats with Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH) or enlarged prostates.
Twenty four rats were divided into three groups and fed a normal diet. Two of the three groups were supplemented with starch tablets (as a placebo) and three pine pollen tablets per day for 14 days.
At the end of the two weeks, the group fed a normal diet alone was injected with olive oil one millimeter per kg of body weight. The two other groups were given a mix of olive oil and testosterone propionate at 4mg per kg of body weight.
Two weeks following the injections, the rats given pine pollen had lower levels of estrogen and smaller prostates when compared with the other groups. This study indicates that pine pollen could improve symptoms of BPH and help to regulate sex hormones [R].
Pine Pollen Side Effects and Risks
Pine pollen seems to offer many health benefits but there are some side effects and risks involved when taking this supplement.
Self-harvested pine pollen may put you at risk
There are some websites that talk about risks of self-harvested pine pollen. There is no research as to whether or not this is a safe practice.
If you go out into the wilderness , you do not know the quality of your pine pollen. Harvesting is not something that you want to do unless you are working with an expert forager.
Too much testosterone may lead to health conditions
While pine pollen can help raise testosterone levels, taking in too much testosterone can have some negative effects including cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and enlarged prostate [R].
No research has confirmed these theoretical risks in humans, so to be on the safe side, use caution with pine pollen.
No clinical trials means there is still a lot we don’t know
Most of the studies done on pine pollen are limited to animal research.
This leaves a wide gap as to how the results will play out in larger-scale clinical trials. More research needs to be done to learn how pine pollen affects humans.
Risk in pregnant and breastfeeding women
There is not enough research showing the safety of pine pollen when taken in pregnancy or during breastfeeding so it is best for these populations to avoid this supplement.
Pine pollen allergy and sensitivities can put you at risk
Pollen is a common trigger for allergic reactions.
People with pollen allergies will often have pine pollen allergy and sensitivities.
If you are allergic to pollen you may want to be tested to see if you are also allergic to pine pollen before trying this supplement [R].
If you have a health condition or an issue with pollen talk to a healthcare professional before starting a pine pollen regimen.
Drug interactions with pine pollen
To date, there is no research on medication or drug interactions.
If you have a medical condition or are on any medications it is best to talk to your healthcare provider before starting pine pollen.
Pine pollen supplements
If you are not able to get out and forage for pine pollen, no sweat because there are a ton of pine pollen supplements to choose from:
Pine pollen extract
Pine pollen extract is an extract of the entire pine plant that is mixed with water or alcohol [R]. The benefit of an extract is it will retain all the nutritive properties of the original plant.
Pine pollen extracts come in powder form or as a tincture.
Extract production can be a cumbersome process and requires good quality control and specialized equipment.
Pine pollen powder
Pine pollen powder is a pine pollen extract that is made into a powder form. It is an easy way to consume pine pollen.
For best results, mix the raw powder with a small amount of water then hold under your tongue for a minute or two.
This allows it to bypass digestion and metabolize it sublingually.
Another benefit of pine pollen powder is it can have a longer shelf life and keeps all of its nutrition.
Pine pollen tincture
A tincture is typically an extract of plant or animal material dissolved in a liquid such as ethanol. Concentrations vary but are usually around 20 percent.
Once the mixture is pressed the alcohol will be removed leaving only the plant left [R].
Typically, a pine pollen tincture is when pine pollen extract is dissolved into an oil. This leaves a concentrated liquid form of pine pollen that is better absorbed by the body.
There is no research to show which is the best form of pine pollen.
Some research shows tinctures, in general, are a good way for the body to absorb substances but the presence of alcohol may destroy the nutritive benefits of pine pollen.
Alcohol is used to preserve the plant Phyto-androgens in pine pollen.
Pine pollen dosage
Many times, your age, health, and other conditions will determine the dosage best for you. Unfortunately, there are no pine pollen dosage recommendations because there is not enough research to determine if toxicity may occur.
So basically the dosage for using pine pollen is up to the individual.
What does this mean for you, the consumer? Though it is a natural product it does not mean that it will affect everyone the same way.
Take this supplement with caution. Read the directions and consult with a health professional if you have any questions about this supplement.
How to find a good quality pine pollen supplement
The potency pine pollen has depends on the quality of the supplement. You want to look for something that does not have a lot of other additives.
Since there is no dosage requirement it may be best to start with a lower dose to see how your body reacts.
Look for a supplement that has a quality rating and is tested for purity by a third party including NSF International, US Pharmacopeia (USP), TGA Approved, IFOS & IKOS, or Consumer Lab.
Look for broken cell wall pine pollen
To get the best nutritive value from pine pollen, look for a product that has a broken cell wall to increase the digestibility.
Pine pollen has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine and confirming these uses, research now shows many possible benefits for improvements in nutrition, aging and disease treatment, and prevention.
There still is a lot of uncertainty around this supplement with no clinical trials showing how these results can be duplicated in humans. This leaves little to be known about the risks, side effects, and what dosages to stick with when consuming pine pollen.
However, pine pollen has a long track record for being used due to its super high nutritional content and if you tolerate it, the risks are likely low.
If you are looking to experiment with this supplement be sure to get a quality product and follow the directions.
It is best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting pine pollen especially if you have any conditions, are on medications, or have a pollen allergy and/or sensitivity.