Local Honey and Allergies

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This week’s installment of bogus allergy treatment will focus on the commonly touted remedy of local bee honey.  The theory goes something like this: Bees collect nectar to make honey and along the way carry local pollens with them which are then transferred to the honey.  Ingesting these small amounts of pollens over time will desensitize the body to them.  Sounds great on a superficial level, but this theory is full of holes.

First, most of the pollen bees collect comes from flowering plants, which play little if any role in nasal allergies.  Second, many people are allergic to a range of seasonal pollens- tree(spring), grass(summer),and weed(fall) are the three main categories.  Honey produced during an individual season may contain pollen present during that time but will not contain other pollen varieties.  So if was made in the summer and you took it in the fall, it would not contain fall pollens.  Third, oral immunotherapy doesn’t work.  (This is distinct from sublingual immunotherapy.)  Numerous studies looking at a variety of dosing levels have shown swallowing allergens to have no effect on allergic symptoms.

So maybe its not the pollen at all.  Maybe there is something special in bee honey that reduces allergy symptoms.  A randomized, placebo controlled trial from a few years ago asked this exact question.  They compared treatment with local honey, a national brand, and placebo and found no difference in several allergy symptoms during a 6 month treatment period.  So in the end, honey is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a sugar pill.

Dr. O

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