Could Honey Help Relieve Allergies and Hay Fever, After All?


Honey Relieves Allergies - True or False?

Some people claim that honey, especially local honey, can help alleviate symptoms associated with hay fever, while others say that the allergy-relieving properties of honey are nothing but a myth. To get the full scoop, keep reading.


Controversy over honey as a remedy for seasonal allergies

According to practitioners of traditional folk, local honey can help relieve hay fever due to the small amounts of pollen it contains. Folk healers that recommend honey as a remedy for hay fever claim that daily consumption of honey, especially local honey, in winter and spring before the allergy season begins can help hay fever sufferers get accustomed to local pollen, which in turn will make their bodies immune to pollen.

However, critics have pointed out that it's generally the pollen produced by non-flowering plants such as trees and weeds, not the pollen in flowers carried out by bees, that trigger the typical symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. Furthermore, most honeys you find can buy in grocery stores have been filtered and contain therefore very little, if any, pollen.


So what do studies say about honey as a remedy for hay fever?

Study 1: The perhaps most famous study on local honey and hay fever was conducted at the University of Connecticut Health Center's Lowell P. Weicker General Clinical Research Center in the early noughties. Thirty-six participants with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the first group would receive locally collected, unpasteurized, and unfiltered honey; the second group would get nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurized honey; and the third group would receive corn syrup with artificial honey flavoring. All hay fever sufferers were instructed to consume a daily dose of one tablespoon of the honey or substitute and to stick the usual methods they used to manage their seasonal allergies. All participants were also asked to track 10 subjective allergy symptoms in a dairy. The results were disappointing: the hay fever sufferers that ingested honey – whether local or nationally collected – did not experience more relief from their symptoms than those in the placebo group.

Study 2: The critics who say that local honey is not an effective cure for hay fever often refer to the findings of above-described study conducted at the University of Connecticut. However, two more recent studies suggest that pollen collected by bees and even regular honey might in fact help relieve hay fever symptoms. A 2008 study from Japan found that pollen collected by bees does in fact have anti-allergenic effects. These effects were linked to the ability of bee pollen to inhibit the activation of mast cells.

Study 3: In 2011, a group of Finnish researchers published an interesting study on the ability of birch pollen and honey to relieve seasonal rhinitis. The study assessed the effects of pre-seasonal use of birch pollen honey (regular honey enriched with birch pollen) and of regular honey on symptoms and medication during the birch pollen season in Finland. Forty-four volunteers with physician-diagnosed birch pollen allergy were given either honey enriched with birch pollen or regular honey in incremental amounts from November 2008 through March 2009. Another seventeen hay fever sufferers served as controls. All participants were asked to record their symptoms and their use of medication from April to May.

Patients who used honey enriched with birch pollen prior to the pollen season had significantly better control of their symptoms than did those who used conventional medication only. But the real surprise was that those who ingested regular honey prior to the pollen season had only marginally worse control of their symptoms compared with those in the birch pollen honey group. The scientists responsible for this groundbreaking study noted, however, that the results should be regarded as preliminary.


What else you should know

Almost all of the debate over whether honey can relieve hay fever has centered on the pollen content of honey. However, some honeys contain compounds that have been shown to exert strong anti-allergenic effects. Thyme honey, for example, has been shown to contain exceptionally high levels of the bioflavonoid quercetin. Many foods rich in quercetin are among the best anti-allergy foods as this powerful flavonoid helps prevent mast cells and basophils from releasing histamine.

But the potential anti-allergenic properties of thyme honey do not end there. This full-bodied honey has also been shown to contain rosmarinic acid, a polyphenol that has been shown to suppress allergic reactions both in animals and in humans. These anti-allergenic effects appear to be linked to the ability of rosmarinic acid to suppress allergic immunoglobulin responses and inflammation caused by leukocytes.

References:
1. T.V. Rajan, Howard Tennen, Richard L. Lindquist, Leonard Cohen, and J. Clive (2002). Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 88(2), 198-203.
2. Ishikawa, Yasuko et al. (2008). Inhibitory Effect of Honeybee-Collected Pollen on Mast Cell Degranulation In Vivo and In Vitro. Journal of Medicinal Food 11(1), 14-20.
3. Saarinen K, Jantunen J, Haahtela T. (2011). Birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy--a randomized controlled pilot study. Int Arch Allergy Immunol., 155(2), 160-6.
4. Robert Socha, Leslaw Juszczak, Slawomir Pietrzyk, and Teresa Fortuna (2009). Antioxidant activity and phenolic composition of herbhoneys. Food Chemistry, 113(2), 568-574.
5. Paula Andrade, Federico Ferreres, M.Isabel Gilb, Francisco A. Tomas-Barberan (1997). Determination of phenolic compounds in honeys with different floral origin by capillary zone electrophoresis. Food Chemistry, 60(1), 79-84.



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