Follow-Up: Does Eating Honey Help Reduce Allergies? (Guest Post)
Emily’s currently applying to masters degree programs across the US, and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.
What does in.gredients mean to me? in.gredients means that I can cut down on my carbon footprint in more ways than just my vegetarianism. I’m always looking for any way to cut down on packaging, whether that’s making my own spaghetti sauce to reuse a jar or carrying extra grocery bags in my purse for unforeseen purchases, in.gredients allows me to do my part for the environment.
Will a spoonful of honey a day keep the allergies away? Proponents of this belief claim that consuming raw honey will alleviate the stuffy nose and runny eyes that plague allergy sufferers.
Allergies happen because the immune system is overly sensitive to a particular substance. This causes the body to release specific types of cells that cause an inflammatory response. Allergy vaccines are a type of immunotherapy that desensitizes the immune system. They are commonly given as a series of injections that contain small amounts of the substance that the person is allergic to. Over time, the concentration of the allergen is increased until the person no longer experiences a reaction when exposed.
Since raw and unfiltered honey contains bits of the pollen that the bees collected, it is believed that consuming it has the same mode of action as the vaccine. Immunity to the pollen will develop after prolonged exposure. Most of the evidence supporting this idea comes from anecdotal reports. As convincing these personal accounts may be, they fail to demonstrate a duplicatable pattern.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Lowell P. Weicker General Clinical Research Center have debunked this myth with their study results. Students from the PhD and masters degree programs split 36 test subjects into three groups. One group was given local raw honey, another a commercially-processed honey, and the last, a placebo.
Each participant kept track of their daily allergy symptoms over a period. The results showed that neither group consuming honey had any more success in alleviating symptoms than the group receiving the placebo.
Upon examination of these findings, a few flaws come into view. The philosophy behind this myth seems logical, until the actual types of pollens that trigger hay fever symptoms are considered.
Honeybees collect pollen from flowers. Flower pollen is larger, heavier, and sticker than the types that cause common allergies. Smaller, lighter pollens that come from grasses, trees, and other plants most commonly trigger hay fever symptoms. Since they’re airborne, allergy sufferers actually inhale the spores. Not only is the pollen the wrong type, but the route of absorption is different.
Honey actually contains very little pollen, being made mostly from the nectar of flowers. The only pollen transfer is from the small amount that sticks to the insects legs. It would be difficult for someone to consume enough pollen in this manner to trigger a vaccine effect. Even though the current research does not support the claim that honey can cure allergies, consuming it can still be beneficial. Honey is a good substitute for other sugars and may be useful for other medicinal applications.