Known as the “Caviar of the East”, Edible bird’s nest (EBN)is a nutrient-rich salivary secretion of swiftlet species. It is harvested in South-East Asia and traditionally consumed in the form of a soup. The price of this rare delicacy can reach as much as $4,500 / pound.
The obvious question remains: Why would anyone pay this much money to eat bird saliva?
Surprisingly, the results of recent scientific research on EBN show that the ancient dish is very healthy even today. The antioxidant and immune-strengthening abilities of the supplement might have a positive benefit for your health. But is it right for you?
From Heritage Delicacy to Evidence-Based Nutraceutical
Edible bird’s nest was only the privilege of the wealthy due to the rarity of the nests and the extreme difficulty of harvesting them from the sides of caves and high cliffs. For centuries, Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese Medicines used it as asthma alleviator, immune system booster, aphrodisiac, and complexion enhancer.
In this day and age, traditional and modern medicine are often practiced together in an integrated way. There is an unfulfilled need for non-pharmacological remedies and natural adjuvant therapies. In the past decade, numerous scientific studies have confirmed the medical efficacy of the bird’s nest.
While current scientific evidence distinguishes the following main bioactivities, their mechanism of action yet remains unknown.
- Sialic acid (N-Acetyl-D-neuraminic acid), EBN’s most remarkable component, has been linked to increasing brain function, strengthening the immune system and improving hair growth. Edible nest is the food with highest sialic acid content presently known. Even higher than in human breast milk and chicken egg yolk.
- Glycoprotein and EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor)-like component are thought to be responsible for cell regeneration properties.
- Six kinds of hormones - testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone and prolactin - showed efficacy in the treatment of endocrine health disorders.
- High TPC (Total Phenolic Content) demonstrated strong antioxidant activity confirming edible nest’s anti-aging properties. The TPC content of EBN is up to 17 times "higher than of honey, broccoli, carrots and ginger".
Edible Bird’s Nest 6 Major Health Benefits
1. Assists with Brain Function
Promotes Infant Brain Development and Memory
The brain grows faster than any other body part in the first three years of an infant’s life. We can all agree that the infancy stage is the most important one for brain and intelligence development.
Sialic acid, present in breast milk, plays an essential role in proper brain development and cognition. In fact, Oxford Academic and Neural Plasticity published articles that stated that oral sialic acid supplementation boosts cognitive functions. So, therefore, if a mother has increased levels of sialic acid through EBN supplements, she may help improve the quality of the breast milk.
Fights Against Neurodegenerative Disorders
Neurodegenerative disease refers to a range of conditions that primarily destroys the neurons in the human brain. The rapid death of neurons in various parts of the brain can influence an individual's movement, speech, memory, intelligence, and much more. Due to the complexity of neurodegenerative diseases, no cure has been found yet, and current, available therapies sometimes fall short of expectations.
EBN might be a possible alternative treatment. A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal shows preliminary evidencethat EBN may prevent or slow the inflammation within the brain that is seen with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Another study by BioMed Central looked at the possibility of reducing the prevalence of Parkinson’s Disease. It found that EBN acts like an antioxidant in the brain to reduce the cell-death that is caused by oxidative stress and protect the neuronsinstead.
2. Aids to Improve Immunity
Fights the Influenza Virus
Traditional Chinese Medicine has used EBN to treat a variety of respiratory diseases such as flu and cough for centuries. Is it effective though?
A study by the Department of Biochemistry, University of Shizuoka demonstrated that EBN extract could effectively inhibit influenza infection independent of its strains – human, avian and swine. EBN's antiviral activity is further supported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Chemotherapy is very difficult for patients. It destroys good cells and bad cells alike — without discrimination. Chemo causes various adverse side effects through the destruction of fast-growing healthy cells - like those of the skin, hair, intestines and bone marrow.
A 2016 in-vivo study suggests that EBN could serve as a promising functional food in conjunction for reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
3. Assists with Obesity-Related Diseases
Works to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Excessive intake of calories in obese individuals leads to the formation of excess visceral fat. It is the fat stored around the body center close to important internal organs. Too much visceral fat produces a protein that raises insulin resistance. It means that the body is not able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which leads to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
A recent study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research showed that EBN assists in inhibiting insulin resistance and improving metabolism. This suggests that bird's nest may be used as a preventative nutraceutical for diabetes type 2 and prediabetes.
Decreases the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
Annually, more people die from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) than any other cause. As you probably already know, blocked heart arteries result in heart attacks, while blocked brain arteries result in strokes. Such blockages are caused by the formation of blood clots in arteries or veins. So, how can you prevent blood clots?
A 2015 research by Drug Design, Development and Theory found that EBN works in similar ways to cholesterol-lowering drugs and can help prevent the formation of blood clots. Therefore, EBN can be included in your diet as a functional food to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
4. Slows Down the Aging Process
We're here for a good time, not a long time. Unfortunately, as we age, our cells, tissues and organs experience changes that affect the functioning of our entire body. While we cannot achieve immortality, some extent of life extension is attainable through healthy diet, regular exercise and consistent UV protection. But, is there a pill or a supplement that can slow down aging?
According to the oxidative stress theory, our body experiences age-related functional issues due to the reduction in our built-in antioxidant defenses and the accumulation of oxidative damage. Oxidative stress has been linked to serious health conditions, like CVDs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer.
An in-vitro study published in the Journal of Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry has attributed EBN's antioxidative effects to lactoferrin and ovotransferrin. These bioactive compounds demostrated synergistic antioxidative activity possibly caused by the transcriptional gene activation. This might be an interesting starting evidence to bird's nest anti-aging properties traditionally praised in the East.
A different theory - Stem Cell Hypothesis of Aging - says that biological aging is caused by the reduction of stem cells in our body. Stem cells compose a small part of total cells but they have a capacity to repair damaged tissue.
There is some scientific evidence that EBN promotes stem cell proliferation, dermal thickness, bone regeneration, and stimulates hair growth. It has also been proposed as an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis and eye injuries. Having said that, of course, there is still a lot of research to be done on the mechanisms of action and further confirmation of EBN's anti-aging properties.
5. Improves Reproductive And Fertility Health
Enhances Pregnancy Success Rates
The term infertility sounds terrifying, but it's actually way more common than you think. Experts estimate that 1 out of 8 women experience difficulties in conceiving.
Several factors can contribute to female fertility. Imbalances in female hormones, such as estrogen, is a major one. This is because estrogen is responsible for the thickening of the uterine lining. A sufficiently plush and comfortable uterine wall encourages embryo implantation and paves the road for a successful pregnancy. Many infertility specialists prescribe estrogen supplementation to prepare the uterus for pregnancy.
EBN contains estradiol – estrogen steroid hormone. This in-vivo study in 2018 suggests that edible nest is a promising alternative for women who have had little success with fertility drugs or in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
Helps to Treat Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Unfortunately for males of all ages, ED has become an increasingly common problem and the little blue pill Viagra is not the best fix. This condition affects approximately 30 million men and triggers a multitude of psychological and personal complications.
According to the study published in the African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in 2012, bird’s nest might be an alternative natural treatment for ED. Testosterone, the bioactive component of EBN, is responsible for enhancing male sexual function.
6. Manages the Ups & Downs of Menopause
Improves Cognitive Dysfunction Caused by Menopause
Women undergoing menopause often complain of 'brain fog' – forgetfulness, memory lapses, and difficulty concentrating. But is it all in the minds of menopausal women? Well, research says no: waning levels of estrogen really do result in significant cognitive deficits.
Women are often prescribed the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which has few risk factors and can lead to the development of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Thus, an alternative therapy is much needed. In a recent study published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Journal, EBN treatment has shown to be as effective as the estrogen treatment in improving menopause-related cognitive decline.
Estrogen deficiency is linked to an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, insulin resistance, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. As mentioned above, an HRT is often employed to improve the quality of life for menopausal women, but there can be related adverse side effects.
In 2015 Drug Design, Development and Therapy journal published an in-vivo study demonstrating that EBN’s natural source of dietary estrogen may improve the metabolism and insulin resistance "even better than estrogen". This highlights EBN’s potential as a “functional food used to prevent” cardiometabolic diseases during menopause.
Thanks to modern science, multiple health benefits of EBN touted for centuries are getting confirmed by increasing evidence. Bird's nest demonstrates a significant promise as an alternative treatment option for many multi-faceted health issues that don't currently have effective cures. Although, the amount of research on EBN is still scarce, the clinical validity of these findings are much worth studying further.