What is Queen Bee Acid?

Royal jelly is the special food that is fed to bee larvae that transforms them into new queens instead of ordinary worker bees. It is comprised of about 3-7% lipids, of which the unsaturated medium-chain fatty acid known as “queen bee acid” is the major component.
Although the ingredient that effects the massive increase in body size is believed to be the protein “royalactin”, other royal jelly ingredients like queen bee acid have some very interesting effects in their own right.

queen bee acid

10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid, or queen bee acid

The omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in abundance in the human brain, where it is positively associated with mental health and cognition. DHA has been found to promote neurogenesis in adult rats in an in vivo experiment, as well as in an in vitro experiment with neural stem cells from rat embryos. [1]
Japanese researchers tested the hypothesis that royal jelly and its constituent queen bee acid could have similar effects on neuronal development. They found that royal jelly encouraged the differentiation of all types of brain cells (both neurons and glial cells), whereas queen bee acid specifically increase the generation of neurons. [2] Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), important in learning and memory, [3] has a similar effect on the development of neuronal stem cells. [4] Decreased expression of BDNF has been linked to stress and depression, and ultimately to atrophy of the hippocampus. [5]

The same Japanese research team then tested the corrolary hypothesis that queen bee acid and/or royal jelly might influence vulnerability to depression, by means of a series of experiments in mice. [6] The poor mice were drenched in water, dangled by their tails, and their cages tipped about and shaken, all in the name of science. They found that the injected queen bee acid was effective at protecting against anxiety and depression in each test. Orally-administered royal jelly, on the other hand, was much weaker, even at massive doses.

The fact that queen bees live far longer than worker bees (queens reign for 1-4 years, much longer than the 6 week life expectancy of a summer worker) has prompted interest in royal jelly from the life extension community. Building on earlier work that showed lifespan-extending properties of royal jelly in fruit flies [7] and mice, [8] a fairly recent study demonstrated that both royal jelly and queen bee acid can extend the lifespan of nematode worms. The mean lifespan of worms treated with 25 µM queen bee acid was increased by 12%. [9]

[1] Kawakita, E., M. Hashimoto, and O. Shido 2006 Docosahexaenoic Acid Promotes Neurogenesis in Vitro and in Vivo. Neuroscience 139(3): 991–997.
[2] Hattori, Noriko, Hiroshi Nomoto, Hidefumi Fukumitsu, Satoshi Mishima, and Shoei Furukawa 2007 Royal Jelly and Its Unique Fatty Acid, 10-Hydroxy-Trans-2-Decenoic Acid, Promote Neurogenesis by Neural Stem/progenitor Cells in Vitro. Biomedical Research (Tokyo, Japan) 28(5): 261–266.
[3] Huang, E. J., and L. F. Reichardt 2001 Neurotrophins: Roles in Neuronal Development and Function. Annual Review of Neuroscience 24: 677–736.
[4] Ito, Hisanori, Aki Nakajima, Hiroshi Nomoto, and Shoei Furukawa 2003 Neurotrophins Facilitate Neuronal Differentiation of Cultured Neural Stem Cells via Induction of mRNA Expression of Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors Mash1 and Math1. Journal of Neuroscience Research 71(5): 648–658.
[5] Warner-Schmidt, Jennifer L., and Ronald S. Duman 2006 Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Opposing Effects of Stress and Antidepressant Treatment. Hippocampus 16(3): 239–249.
[6] Ito, Satoru, Yuji Nitta, Hidefumi Fukumitsu, et al. 2011 Antidepressant-Like Activity of 10-Hydroxy-Trans-2-Decenoic Acid, a Unique Unsaturated Fatty Acid of Royal Jelly, in Stress-Inducible Depression-Like Mouse Model. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012: e139140.
[7] Gardner, T. S. 1948 The Use of Drosophila Melanogaster as a Screening Agent for Longevity Factors; Pantothenic Acid as a Longevity Factor in Royal Jelly. Journal of Gerontology 3(1): 1–8.
[8] Inoue, Shin-ichiro, Satomi Koya-Miyata, Shimpei Ushio, et al. 2003 Royal Jelly Prolongs the Life Span of C3H/HeJ Mice: Correlation with Reduced DNA Damage. Experimental Gerontology 38(9): 965–969.
[9] Honda, Yoko, Yasunori Fujita, Hiroe Maruyama, et al. 2011 Lifespan-Extending Effects of Royal Jelly and Its Related Substances on the Nematode Caenorhabditis Elegans. PloS One 6(8): e23527.

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