Springtime has arrived, and with it comes pollen which can be an uncomfortable nuisance for people with seasonal allergies. In these individuals, pollen can trigger the release of histamine, a chemical made by the body in response to allergens that can irritate soft tissues and cause inflammation.
Antihistamines are modern remedies used to treat hay fever and the suffering that comes with it. These medicines, available over the counter and by prescription, unfortunately come with various side effects, namely drowsiness and dried nasal cavities.
As an alternative to antihistamines, some people look toward natural allergy remedies. Honey is a product that is purported to have anti-allergenic properties. As allergy sufferers react to local plants and flowers, it stands to reason that local honey would be the kind to purchase. In fact, proponents advise ‘the closer, the better’ when it comes to a recommended product.
Current theories propose that local honey works like a vaccine because it contains many of the same pollen spores that affect those afflicted with seasonal allergies. Vaccines are “mock” forms of a virus or germ introduced into the body, causing an immune response. This triggers the production of antibodies designed to fight the virus or germ which later protects the body when it is truly exposed to these invaders.
The process of “gradual vaccination” with incremental amounts of local honey is said to be a form of immunotherapy. It is thought that the antibodies caused by consumption of honey should not trigger uncomfortable allergy symptoms because the concentration of pollen spores in honey is low. While most consumers in fact don’t have any reaction at all, the consumption of honey can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Also, because honey can carry bacteria that can cause infant botulism due to underdeveloped immune systems, it is not recommended for children under one year of age.
An unfunded study conducted by students at Xavier University examined the effects of honey on three groups: those without allergies, those with seasonal allergies and those with year-round allergies. Participants within these groups were given either two teaspoons of local honey, two teaspoons of non-local honey or no honey at all per day for six weeks during the allergy season.
It was concluded that both groups receiving honey reported fewer allergy symptoms as compared to the control group, with the group consuming the local honey reporting the most improvement. While the study was not published, many of the participants desired to keep the remaining honey.
A recent published study found that consumption of local birch pollen honey reduced symptoms in individuals suffering from allergies to this type of pollen. The study examined 61 patients with a diagnosis of birch pollen allergy, with 50 patients completing the study.
The participants were divided into three groups. From November 2008 to March 2009, two groups received incremental daily amounts of either regular honey or birch pollen honey, and one group served as the control, receiving regular allergy medication. In the months of April and May, patients recorded allergy symptoms and use of allergy medication.
Along with a 60% reduction in birch pollen allergy symptoms, it was found that subjects receiving birch pollen honey reported twice as many asymptomatic days, a 70% reduction in days with severe symptoms, and usage of antihistamines was reduced by half as compared to the control group.
The subjects receiving regular honey reported similar results in terms of reduction in symptoms and asymptomatic days, but fared significantly worse than the BP honey group when it came to antihistamine usage.
Because it is sweet and natural with no side effects for most people, the use of local honey might just be an allergy treatment with a twist! More research is needed however, to further verify local honey as a natural remedy for allergies. It is important to always check with a health care professional before beginning any type of treatment – natural or otherwise.