Bee Products, Autism and Propionic Acid

Almost 2 years ago, I first wrote about the gut health benefits of honey bee products  in a post about research into why queen bees live so much longer than their workers.  It turned out that they are fed exclusively with royal jelly, the bee equivalent of breast milk, which keeps their microbiomes robust and diverse; whereas workers rely upon pollen, and like aging humans, over time their microbiomes become less diverse and have higher and higher levels of pathogenic bacteria.

A few months later I wrote about honey bee products again, in a post about autism and boosting levels of Akkermansia and other good, probiotic species of bacteria:  “…studies show that propolis (another polyphenol), produced by honey bees, reduces bacterioides, alleviating colitis and intestinal inflammation.”

Well, interestingly, yesterday  I read a paper about using honey bee products to improve brain inflammation and dysbiosis induced by none other than our old friend, propionic acid (PPA).[i]  Remember that excessive PPA is considered an-almost-certain cause of some cases of autism.  (I have written extensively over the years about the work of Dr. Derrick MacFabe, who has studied the effect of excess PPA for almost 2 decades now. You can read more about that here, here and here, as just 3 example of many.)  As these scientists likewise state, “PPA, which is a metabolic end product of clostridia species and is known to be 10-fold higher in individuals with autism, can be regarded as a stressor for both the immune and nervous systems.”  As I’ve talked about in my previous posts on bee products, they are rich in flavonoids and many other healthy components, and have been shown to have many amazing health benefits:  they are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-allergy.

To test the efficacy of bee products, they put hamsters into 4 different groups:  the first was control; the 2nd was were treated with propionic acid for 3 day; the third was treated with bee pollen for 4 weeks after the administration of PPA; and the last group was treated with propolis for 4 weeks after the administration of PPA.  The animals’ neuroinflammatory responses were evaluated.

As expected, when treated with PPA the major regulatory cytokine, IL-10, which modulates the inflammatory response, went way down and pro-inflammatory cytokine levels went up.  To boot, “…the neurotoxic effects of PPA was clearly presented…”  But there was good news to report:  “Both bee pollen and propolis were effective in ameliorating the neurotoxic effects of PPA….”

Their conclusion is potentially heartening:  “The present study demonstrates the immune variation of the neurotoxic properties of PPA and the remarkable ameliorating effects of bee pollen and propolis as prebiotics because they can induce the growth of healthy bacteria and reduce the overgrown of pathogenic C. difficile.”  That is, not only do these bee products directly improve inflammatory status; they also do so indirectly by promoting acting as probiotics, improving the quality of the gut bacteria, reducing pathogens.

One more really important point.  The scientists point out that glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter that causes the firing of brain neurons) and neuroinflammation are “…well-known etiological mechanism of several neuro-developmental disorders, including autism…” Local inflammation in the brain causes decreased uptake of glutamate, resulting in too much being available to cause the over-stimulation of brain neurons.  The increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines, and the decrease in regulatory ones (like IL-10), are known to be involved in creating this issue, and in decreasing GABA transmission (the counter-neurotransmitter to glutamate, which calms the brain neurons down).  Thus, part of the effectiveness of bee products, as  shown by both this and their previous studies, is that “bee pollen was effective in ameliorating the glutamate excitotoxicity…” caused by PPA toxicity.

Of course this needs to be tested in actual humans.  However, to me this is one of those “can’t hurt, could help” scenarios.  I got lazy with testing the bee products 2 years ago:  I’ve already placed an order to get more to give it a fair shot for both my son Alex, who has autism, and myself.

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[i] Aabed K, Bhat RS, Al-Dbass A, et al. Bee pollen and propolis improve neuroinflammation and dysbiosis induced by propionic acid, a short chain fatty acid in a rodent model of autism. Lipids Health Dis. 2019;18(1):200. Published 2019 Nov 16. doi:10.1186/s12944-019-1150-0

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