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Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies?

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Updated April 29, 2014

Question: Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies?
Answer: Possibly, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is a popular notion that eating honey is a natural remedy for symptoms of allergies and asthma. Honey contains various ingredients, including pollen allergens and components of honeybees. In fact, bee pollen -- available without a prescription and at most health food stores -- is also commonly marketed as a natural allergy remedy and an anti-inflammatory agent. Other names for commercially available bee pollen include royal jelly or propolis.

Locally produced honey, which supposedly contains local plant pollens to which a person would be allergic, is the preferred type of honey for allergies. It makes sense that consuming honey that contains pollen to which a person is allergic would improve allergies, much like how sublingual immunotherapy works. And, the fact that many people have experienced anaphylaxis from eating honey means that there may be enough pollen to stimulate the immune system.

However, in order to prove that a therapy works, it must be compared to placebo. There is only one well-designed study comparing two different types of honey (locally-produced and nationally-produced) against placebo in people with pollen allergy. Unfortunately, there was no difference in allergy symptoms among the three groups of study participants. It was interesting, however, that nearly 1 in 3 of the volunteers dropped out of the study because they couldn’t tolerate eating one tablespoon of honey every day due to the overly sweet taste. More studies are needed to further investigate the possible benefits of honey for the treatment of allergies.

So, while consuming local honey for your allergies may sound like a good idea, and many would even argue that it can’t hurt, no well-designed study that I’m aware of shows that it actually does work. In fact, some very sensitive people could experience life-threatening allergic reactions as a result of eating locally-produced honey due to the pollen and venom protein content. I don’t doubt that some people actually do get benefit for their allergies as a result of eating honey, but for most people this is probably no more than a placebo effect.

Learn more about natural therapies for the treatment of allergies.

Sources:

Bauer L, et al. Food allergy to honey: Pollen or bee products? J ALLERGY CLIN IMMUNOL. 1996;97:65- 73.

Fuiano N, et al. Anaphylaxis to Honey in a Patient Sensitized to Compositae Pollen. 2007; 119:S35.

Rajan TV, et al. Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002;88:198–203.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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