Wouldn’t you be surprised if someone told you that bees know a lot about honey? Bees not only produce honey but also use it the most. And they are also very smart in this work. If you offer a sick bee a variety of honey, it will immediately choose the honey that it knows is best for fighting infection. Humans, on the other hand, still do not know much about the intricacies of honey. Until just a few decades ago, honey was not mentioned in most “useful foods” that provide medical benefits beyond basic nutrition, says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois.
“Even researchers on beeswax and bees did not consider it anything more than sweetness.” But since then, extensive research has shown that honey contains a number of plant chemicals that also affect the health of bees. Ingredients in honey prolong the life of bees, make them stronger against harsh conditions such as cold and develop the ability to fight infections and heal wounds. These findings help us understand how we can cope with the effects of natural disasters, pesticides and germ flies in recent years.
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“It’s a wonderful thing, and I think people still don’t fully understand it,” says Berenbaum. It tastes great on double bread and the taste of tea is doubled. It is true that this condensed substance contains the most sugar but it is rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals and organic matter which give each honey its uniqueness as well as the bees. Also provide tremendous medical benefits. But it is not only bees that produce honey, but also whirlwinds, stingless bees, and even some wolves. But only (Apes type) bees can produce enough honey to reach our stores. And this ability was not created overnight, but took millions of years.
Evolution spaced between bees and bees about 120 million years ago, and at the same time flowering plants flourished. This diversity of flowers and the change in the tendency of bees to feed their larvae pollen particles in contrast to insects led to the evolution of bees, which is why more than 20,000 species are known today. The bees then had to learn some more chemical tricks and behaviors to master the preparation of honey. Bees began mixing flower sap and pollen, making it easier to move them from one place to another. In addition, wax-releasing glands began to form in them, due to which they were able to collect flower sap and pollen particles in separate parts.
“Wax is a very flexible building material,” says Christina Grozinger, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. Christina researches the social behaviors of bees and the factors that affect their health. When making a honeycomb, the bees arrange the wax in the form of six-cornered boxes, which is the best way to preserve an object, because the six-cornered boxes give strong support to each other. “It’s a marvel of engineering,” says Christina. There is another advantage to having many small and uniform boxes. Larger levels mean that water evaporates faster and less water means less germination. And the preparation of the honey that has to be stored in these boxes starts by sucking the juice of the bee flower.
It may seem that the bee is drinking the juice, but it does not enter the stomach, at least not in the traditional sense. It stores it in a separate stomach specific to its crop, honey, where it combines with various enzymes. First, an enzyme called invertase begins its work, which breaks down the molecules of sucrose in the juice in half, producing simple sweeteners, such as glucose and fructose. (Research has shown that these enzymes do not produce the genes of bees, but rather the germs that may be present in their bodies.) After returning to the hive, the bee spews this stuff in front of the assembly line of other bees. All of this is done by mouth, and with each step, the water is reduced to a minimum, while more enzymes are added, until the juice is completely sterilized.
This mixture is then stored in these compartments, and then the flies flutter rapidly, causing more water to evaporate. Then another enzyme, glucose oxidase, starts its work and converts some glucose into gluconic acid, which works to preserve honey. This chemical reaction increases the acidity of the honey and produces hydrogen peroxide which stops the growth of germs but too much of it can be toxic. This is followed by the work of some more enzymes, possibly from pollen and yeast, which break down some hydrogen peroxide to maintain its surface. Eventually the box is covered with wax. The nurse bees deliver the finished honey to other hive residents and the rest is stored for cold and rainy days.
In the 1990’s, he became interested in Bernabeum flower juice, after which he began working on honey. She knew that flower juices contain plant chemicals, phytochemicals that repel insects and play a role in plant growth and nutrient uptake. He came up with the idea that when bees suck the sap of flowers to make honey, it is possible that these phytochemicals may also come with the bees. She wanted to know what would happen to the bees if this happened.
So Barenbaum began to consider the chemicals in honey. In 1998, his team discovered that different types of honey contain different types of antioxidants and that it depends on the flower from which the honey is made. “It simply added to my interest,” she says. Their group later found that bees that were given fresh water mixed with two phytochemicals in honey (an antioxidant called p-comic acid and quercetin) were better able to resist pesticides than just bees. Fresh water was given. In addition, water-drinking bees with phytochemicals were found to be older than other bees. Berenbaum and colleagues published their findings in 2017 in the journal Insects. Other studies have shown the benefits of extra phytochemicals in honey.
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Abscessic acid strengthens the immune system of bees, speeds up wound healing, and builds resistance to cold weather. Other phytochemicals reduce the effect of germs on bees, otherwise germs become the biggest cause of decline in bee populations. For example, if fungi infected bees are fed phytochemical thymol as a syrup from thyme plants, it will reduce the number of mildew particles in them by less than half. In addition, phytochemicals have been found to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause European and American foul-brood disease. Otherwise, the disease of American foulbroad is so devastating and spreading so fast that it is recommended to set fire to entire roofs to prevent it. It is known that some phytochemicals show their effects by helping the work of genes that improve immunity and release toxins.
For example, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, when bees were fed a juice containing a phytochemical called anabisine, a gene that produces antibacterial proteins increased the production of these proteins. In addition, phytochemicals can keep bees healthy by keeping the good germs inside and above the bees happy. According to a study published last year in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, caffeine, gallic acid, p-comic acid and campferol play a role in increasing the diversity and number of good bacteria in bees’ stomachs. And the number of good germs in bees has been linked to a decrease in the severity of various infections.
It has also been observed that when bees are sick, they choose healthier honey. Entomologist Silvio Erler and his team placed four different types of honey in front of the infected bees. Earler works at the Julius Cohen Institute in Germany. “We gave them freedom of choice.” The researchers found that sick bees selected honey made from sunflower flowers, which was also the best medicine for the infection and had the most natural antibiotic properties. The team published their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
But can bees treat themselves
Despite the increase in immunity and other benefits from honey, bees still suffer. Between April 2020 and April 2021, fly flies in the United States lost 45% of their bee population. This is the second worst year since B-Informed Partnership, a non-profit organization, launched the survey in 2006. By the way, flies leave some honey in the roofs, but apparently there must be variety of honey. Research has shown that different types of honey made from the flowers of the black locust tree, sunflower or a variety of flowers, kill different types of bacteria.
Silvio Erler says the variety is like a medical store. “We go to the pharmacy and say we need this for headaches and this for stomach aches. And in the pharmacy we get all this in one place. But Berenbaum says bees can make their own honey pharmacy only when the right flowers are available, and not just in number and variety, but throughout the growing season. Barenbaum co-authored a review of the effects of honey on bee health in the 2021 Annual Review of Entomology. Bees do not find plant varieties on large agricultural lands where bees are brought every year for distribution of pollen from almonds, apples, pumpkins and pears. Aarti Sheshadri, an entomologist at the US Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Health Laboratory, says the availability of a variety of flowers improves the health of bees.
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The Department of Agriculture is now offering benefits to agricultural landowners under the Conservation Reserve Program to make part of their agricultural land a wildlife sanctuary. “Agriculture has to continue, but it also has to support pollen-carrying insects,” says Aarti. Meeting the bees’ nutritional needs will not solve all their problems, but Silvio Erler says ensuring that bees have access to their own medicine can help. He thinks that if the beekeepers leave honey made from different flowers on the roofs, it will keep the bees in their medical store for the whole year. And May Barenbaum, who began her research years ago because she felt the honey was not finding its place, says getting information is a step in the right direction.