There is a popular phrase that says, “honey cures pollen allergies,” indicating that consuming honey may treat seasonal allergies. But is there any truth to that statement? This article will explore the relationship between honey and allergies to determine if there is a connection between the two.
Seasonal allergies most often occur during the fall or spring months as a result of blooming plants (usually ragweed) and pollen release.
There is a theory that honey can cure seasonal allergies because honey contains pollen from bees, which would increase exposure to the allergen and decrease sensitivity to it over time.
Research has been inconclusive regarding the use of honey for seasonal allergies but it is unlikely that it is a treatment option due to the limited amount and incorrect type of pollen in it.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies most often occur during the fall or spring months as a result of blooming plants (usually ragweed) and pollen release. The severity of the allergy depends on many factors including weather and time of day. Signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies include:
- Runny nose
- Red, watery, and/or itchy eyes
- Postnasal drip
Seasonal allergies are more than just a small annoyance for most people. In many cases, the allergies become disruptive and may decrease quality of life.
What is honey and how is it made?
The process of bees making honey is complex. The bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers and store it in their second stomach for transport back to the hive. While flying back to their hive, the nectar begins to mix with enzymes to start the process of honey production. Once back at the hive, the bee transfers the nectar to another bee, which adds more enzymes to it and finishes making the honey.
The connection between honey and allergies
Theoretically, by eating honey you would be exposing yourself to small amounts of what you are allergic to, and over time, this exposure would make you less sensitive to it. This mechanism is similar to that of receiving allergy shots. However, there are a few problems with this theory.
Though bees do pick up pollen that ends up as an ingredient in honey, it is typically not the same pollen that causes allergies. The pollen that causes seasonal allergies is usually from weeds, trees, and grass. Bees are more likely to obtain their pollen from colorful flowers, most of which do not cause allergies.
Small amounts of pollen
Even if the pollen found in honey were the correct kind to decrease allergy sensitivities, it likely would not matter since the pollen is only found in trace amounts in the honey. During the honey-making process, most of the pollen is filtered out. Additionally, honey sold in stores usually goes through more filtering steps during the bottling process, removing even more of the pollen.
What does the research say?
Unfortunately, there has not been much research conducted that explores the relationship between honey and seasonal allergies. Two small studies, both conducted over ten years ago, show conflicting information. The first study, conducted in 2002, compared allergy symptoms between three groups. One group consumed local raw honey, another group had commercially made honey, and the last group had a placebo. Results showed no differences in allergy symptoms between the groups.
The other study, conducted in 2013, compared the effects of raw honey to placebo on seasonal allergies. After eight weeks, the group that had honey showed improvement in allergy symptoms. However, it is important to note that both of the groups were also treated with an antihistamine medication. It is impossible to determine whether it was the honey or the medication that caused the improvement in allergy symptoms.
To be able to claim a relationship between honey and the treatment of allergy symptoms, more research needs to be conducted.
Does honey offer any health benefits?
While honey may not be effective for the treatment of seasonal allergies, it does offer other several other health benefits. There is limited research on the benefits of honey but there are some indications that honey may help.
Known benefits of honey:
- May help treat heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Offer antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and anti-anxiety benefits.
- Associated with improved cough and cold symptoms.
Is honey safe for everyone?
Honey is generally safe for everyone except babies under the age of one. Honey can cause botulism in babies from exposure to bacterial spores. Babies are especially susceptible to this type of infection. Though rare, there are some individuals that may be allergic to honey, making it an unsafe option.
So, while honey may not be effective for treating seasonal allergies, it may offer other health benefits, making it a solid addition to your diet.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundatioun of America. AAFA Explains: Can Honey Help My Seasonal Allergies?
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Seasonal Allergies.
- Mayo Clinic. Honey.
- Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis.
- Annals of Saudi Medicine. Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia.