You’re buried beneath a mountain of tissues and can barely keep your eyelids open after a dose of allergy meds. You remember hearing that small amounts of local honey can help keep sniffles at bay. Does it work?
Theory vs. Practice
The idea that honey can prevent allergies is based on a concept called immunotherapy. The theory makes sense, but there are problems.
It boils down to this, says allergist Neeta Ogden, MD: You get a tiny amount of the thing you’re allergic to, which can make you less sensitive to it.
Over time and with bigger doses, your body builds up immunity to the allergen. It’s the same idea behind allergy shots.
Some people think eating local honey works the same way because it contains pollen. One issue with that theory: There’s no way to know exactly what’s in your honey. “With immunotherapy, we isolate the exact allergen patients are allergic to,” Ogden says.
And there’s a bigger problem: You’re probably not allergic to the pollen found in the honey. “It’s a big misconception that insect-borne pollen from flowers has something to do with allergies,” Ogden says. “It doesn’t.”
Not the Allergen You’re Looking For
Pollen from weeds, trees, and grasses is the leading cause of seasonal allergies. Wind usually whips the yellowy dust from these plants into the air.
Bees, which make honey, tend to pick up pollen from brightly colored flowers. Pollen from these blooms rarely causes allergies.
So even if local honey contains pollen, it’s unlikely that it’s behind your allergy symptoms, Ogden says.
Doctors have researched the issue. Their findings: Honey doesn’t work. One study had people with allergies eat 1 tablespoon of local honey per day. Their symptoms didn’t get better — not even compared to folks who didn’t down any of the sticky stuff.
Honey Has Health Risks
When people talk about eating honey to prevent allergies, they don’t mean the kind at the supermarket that comes in a plastic bear. It’s often local, unprocessed honey. And it can have some pretty nasty stuff in it, from bee parts to mold spores and bacteria. These things are usually removed during commercial processing.
It’s rare, but eating unprocessed honey can cause a serious allergic reaction. You might have itching, hives, or swelling of your mouth, throat, or skin. The culprit: pollen or bee parts in the unprocessed honey.
“One of the reasons I never recommend unprocessed honey for allergies is because someone may be allergic to it and not even know,” Ogden says. “I worry about local honey that hasn’t been processed or tested.”
And if you’re allergic to bees, it’s possible unprocessed honey could contain some bee venom and cause a severe reaction, Ogden says.
Honey Can Help
While local honey isn’t a cure-all for your allergies, research shows that processed honey can help with other symptoms. You’ve probably heard it praised as a cough remedy. One theory is that it has antioxidants that help fight viruses.
“Honey also helps soothe the irritation in your throat that causes you to cough,” Ogden says.
Whether you add it to your tea or share some with your kid, keep in mind that it isn’t safe to give children younger than 12 months old. It contains a toxin that can lead to a dangerous condition called botulism. It’s especially serious in infants.
Neeta Ogden, MD, allergist, spokesperson, American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: “Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy).”
Eating allergens seems like it should reduce sneezes. In practice? Not so much.
By Sara Chodosh | Published Apr 22, 2021 6:00 PM
- Allergic Reaction
Despite affecting some 50 million Americans, allergies aren’t super well understood. The sparks that ignite your immune system can range from sunlight to onions, and symptoms of an attack are just as varied. For that reason, we’re spending several weeks writing about allergies—what they are, how they manifest, and how we can find relief. This is PopSci’s Allergic Reaction.
Eating local honey to prevent the springtime sniffles seems like it should work: local bees collect pollen, pollen gets into the honey, you get exposed to the allergens, and your body learns they’re safe. The belief that this works is so widespread that a group of scientists decided it was worth testing.
But first, they started with an open-label trial. That’s the technical, jargon-y term for a study where participants know whether they’re getting the real treatment or a placebo. Volunteers with seasonal allergies showed up and were told either to eat a tablespoon of honey every day or to eat corn syrup flavored with artificial honey. Those eating the honey reported statistically significantly lowered symptoms—it was so promising that the researchers decided they really did need to see whether honey could help with allergies.
So they progressed to a double blind trial—one where no one knew what they were getting.
Participants this time got divided into three groups: one got local honey, one a national pasteurized honey, and one the flavored corn syrup. They ate a full tablespoon every day. If this sounds thoroughly gross to you, you are not alone. Out of 36 initial volunteers, 13 dropped out because the regimen was too sweet for them. Those who survived eating a tablespoon of honey every day for 30 weeks mailed in journals regularly tracking their perceived allergy symptoms.
By the end of the study, those who ate the honey were doing no better with their allergies than those who ate the corn syrup (though their blood sugar might have been in better shape).
It’s possible, of course, that the participants simply weren’t eating enough honey. The scientists note in their paper that oral consumption of allergens has historically been shown to be an effective way to train the immune system not to overreact. It follows that the allergens in honey should help train people’s bodies. If that’s the case, though, we’re still out of luck. Not many people will be able to tolerate eating multiple tablespoons of honey every day.
One more promising study suggests that it might also be about the type of honey. Local honey will have a variety of pollen sources, each of which may not be enough to have substantial microbial communities to train the eater’s immune system. Finnish researchers decided to test the effect of birch pollen honey—regular honey, but with added bee-collected birch pollen. Birch pollen is one of the dominant season allergy sources in Finland, so the scientists gathered volunteers who were allergic to the tree and prescribed them either regular honey or birch pollen-enriched honey. A third control group ate no honey. Those who got the extra birch pollen had significantly reduced symptoms and more symptom-free days, even more than those who got regular honey.
The one problem with this study is that the control group didn’t get a placebo. They were simply advised not to eat any honey-containing foods during the study period. It’s very possible that both forms of honey produced a strong placebo effect. The differences between the regular honey and birch pollen honey group weren’t statistically significant, so this study may be a fluke. Or, the extra pollen may really have helped. We’re still not sure.
All this being said, like all naturopathic remedies, you may genuinely feel better taking honey. These studies prove that the results you see are most likely the placebo effect—but the placebo effect can be helpful. If you believe the honey helps, then the honey helps. All that matters in the end is that you feel better, and if eating a tablespoon of honey is what enables you to spend summer days outside in the grass, you should go for it. Honey is delicious. Worst case scenario, you’re consuming a natural sweetener that’s less of a blood sugar rush than table sugar. Best case scenario, you help your allergies. It’s no surprise this particular remedy has a lot of buzz.
Sara is an associate editor at PopSci where she writes about everything from vaccine hesitancy to extreme animal sex. She got a master’s degree in science journalism at NYU’s Science Health and Environmental Reporting Program, as well as another one in data visualization from the University of Girona. Contact the author here.
It can be used as a natural sweetener for teas, desserts, and other recipes, can help soothe a sore throat, and it’s even used as a natural moisturizer in some skin care products.
However, what you might not know is that consuming local honey is also a great way to naturally help manage springtime allergies.
Keep reading to find out how consuming local honey might help give you some relief from springtime allergies.
How Local Honey Helps Protect Against Allergies
When raw, local honey is consumed over a long period of time, it’s been proven time and time again to help lessen the symptoms of people who have mild allergies.
While there isn’t concrete medical data on exactly why it works, most doctors believe consuming honey affects people much like getting a vaccine does.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember how honey is made.
Honey comes from bees. And bees get the energy and nutrients they need to produce honey while ingesting nectar, which is often coated with pollen.
As honey is produced in a bee’s stomach, pollen naturally becomes one of honey’s “ingredients.”
From there, honey is collected and placed into containers which we buy.
As we consume the honey we purchase, we are also consuming trace amounts of pollen–the irritant that causes itchy eyes, coughs and sneezing.
Here’s where the vaccine theory comes in.
When you’re given a vaccine, you’re injected with trace amounts of a virus. This process allows your body to build an immunity to the virus so you can easily fight it off before it becomes a problem.
The same process can be applied to consuming raw, local honey.
Over time, you’ll be exposed to irritants from honey that will help build your body’s immunity to having an allergic reaction.
Once again, I want to express the idea that this isn’t a 100% proven method for getting rid of allergies.
There is data to prove that consuming raw, local honey can help, but, if you have severe allergies that are disrupting your daily life, I encourage you to visit your primary doctor to get the help you need to stay healthy and safe.
What Type of Honey You Need to Consume
If you’re interested in giving honey a try for mild allergies, there are a few things you need to know.
First, it’s important that the honey you purchase is local.
The honey you consume needs to contain trace amounts of pollen from the plants that are native to your area. If the honey doesn’t contain pollens from local plants that cause allergies, it’s not going to do anything to help you.
One of the best places to find local honey is your community’s farmers market. Always ask the person who is selling the honey where it was harvested to ensure it’s local.
If you don’t have a farmers market that is local to your area, check online for local honey producers. There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a local honey farmer that produces and sells honey in your community.
Second, it’s important to make sure the honey you purchase is raw honey.
Honey that is not raw is filtered and processed, which strips the honey of pollens.
Raw honey is as natural as it gets and will give you the best shot at helping you manage your allergies.
One Final Thought on Honey as Allergy Relief
As a naturopath, I always like the idea of using natural solutions to relieve health problems before medications need to become involved.
There’s no harm in giving honey a shot in your pursuit to get rid of some of your allergy symptoms.
That being said, if you suffer from severe allergy symptoms like wheezing, burning eyes, rashes, throat swelling, or any other symptom that would compromise your safety, you need to consult an allergist before you give honey a try.
For more tips on how to naturally manage allergies, check out our blog post here.
Patsy Giarda, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Winter is winding down and spring is quickly approaching. Warmer weather and enjoying outdoor activities are two of the best things about spring. However, for those who suffer with seasonal environmental allergies, it can also bring the struggle of itchy or watery eyes, persistent runny nose, post-nasal drip, and/or nagging cough. Natural alternatives to help control these symptoms can be used to alone or in conjunction with prescription or over the counter allergy medications.
Studies show that consuming local, unprocessed, seasonal wildflower honey can serve as a helpful adjunct to controlling allergy symptoms. Allergy shots are a well-known method of treating allergies by administering slow, small repeated exposure to the allergen. Oral consumption of local, seasonal honey utilizes the same theory of small exposure to the allergens found in the local pollen. When bees pollinate flowers, they carry some of the pollen back to the hive where the honey is produced. Honey collected from the local hives contains the pollen of the surrounding areas that circulate in the air and can cause allergies.
Local wildflower honey should be harvested (the year before) in the same season your allergy symptoms typically flare up. Such honey contains the pollen that causes the increase of histamine which leads to allergy symptoms. Most flowers and plants pollinate at certain times of the year, which is the reason most people have allergy symptoms only during 1 or 2 seasons annually. If a person has allergies year-round, it is more likely something in the home environment, or a food.
Randomized controlled studies, such as the Honey Study, indicate that local, raw honey provides relief of seasonal environmental allergy symptoms comparable to antihistamines. Similarly, in the randomized controlled Birch Pollen Honey Study, subjects given birch pollen honey prior to birch pollen season had fewer and less significant allergies and used less antihistamines.
You can learn more by watching this Good Morning America segment in which Dr Rosen, a colleague of Dr Berger, discussed local, seasonal honey as a natural allergy remedy.
Although allergies can make you feel miserable we hope a “spoonful of honey” will help make this allergy season better for you and your family. Look for more allergy tips in our upcoming articles!
Local Wildflower Honey Protocol For Seasonal Allergies
*This protocol is intended for ages 1 year and up. Honey should NEVER be given to a child under 1 year old for concern of infantile botulism, a neuromuscular disorder caused by consuming the bacteria, clostridium botulinum. Children under 1 year old have immature digestive systems and are unable to handle the bacteria’s spores putting them at serious risk of contracting this illness. The bacteria in contaminated honey can lead to severe weakness of the muscles, decreased movement, trouble swallowing, and respiratory depression.
*Start by taking ¼ teaspoon of the local, seasonal, wildflower honey orally once daily. Increase the amount of honey by ¼ teaspoon every 2 days, working up to 1 tablespoon of honey per 50 lbs of the person’s weight. For example, a person weighing 100 lbs should work up to 2 tablespoons of honey daily. The dose can be divided throughout the day as desired. Continue to take the honey through the allergy season.
*If possible, the person consuming the honey should move the honey around the oral cavity for a few moments before swallowing, and try to delay drinking any liquids for a few minutes afterward.
Note: This information is not intended to replace consultation between a patient and medical provider. It is for general purposes only.
A literature search returns very few articles specifically addressing and using locally grown honey. A study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in February 2002 negates the benefits of local grown honey. The study followed a cohort of 64 people randomly assigned to one of three groups, with the first receiving locally collected, unpasteurized, unfilteredhoney, the second nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurizedhoney, and the third, corn syrup with synthetichoney flavoring. They were asked to consume one tablespoonful of honey or substitute daily and to follow their usual standard care for the management of their symptoms. Neitherhoney group experienced symptom relief when compared to the placebo group.
To the contrary, a study in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology in May 2011 appeared to show a benefit. In this study, Forty-four patients with physician-diagnosed birch pollen allergy consumed either no honey, regular honey or honey to which birch pollen was added (birch pollen honey or BPH) in incremental amounts from November 2008 to March 2009. At the conclusion, patients in the first 2 groups experienced no improvement of symptoms but the BPH group experienced a statistically significant improvement in symptoms scores.
So is the myth busted or true:
Despite this, the second article is often cited as being beneficial in lay publications and websites promoting organic or naturalistic methods for treating allergies. They appear to ignore the fact that birch pollen HAD TO BE ADDED. The first article is cited often as being outdated or old and therefore given no credence, which is foolish. Otherwise most of what’s available is purely anecdotal with little factual evidence supporting the claim. Surprisingly, some websites purport the benefit but contradict their own anecdotal evidence.
Remember that bees are in the business of collecting a flower’s nectar, not pollen to produce honey. Therefore very little pollen is deposited in honey. Also, the pollen they handle is produced by flowers that require cross pollination by insects unlike the majority of allergy triggering tree, grass and weed plants that do not require insects to carry pollen for fertilization. They produce huge amounts of pollen and depend on the wind for distribution/pollination. They don’t need the bees. Yes some of the allergen inducing pollen grains end up in the honey but they are in insignificant quantity.
Allergies are the worst. Whichever time of the year they pop up for you, seasonal allergies can make your life miserable. You know the symptoms: runny nose, sore throat, coughing, constant sneezing, and terrible sinus pressure. You most likely are heading to the pharmacy to grab some Benadryl or Flonase—but not everyone wants to pop a pill every time your eyes start to itch. (Related: 4 Surprising Things That Are Affecting Your Allergies)
Some people believe that eating raw, local honey may be the elixir for treating seasonal allergies, a type of strategy based on immunotherapy.
"Allergies happen when your body's immune system reacts to allergens in your environment by attacking them," says Payel Gupta, M.D., a board-certified allergist and immunologist at ENT & Allergy Associates in New York City. "Allergy immunotherapy helps by essentially training your body to stop attacking harmless allergens. It works by introducing small amounts of the allergens in your body so that your immune system can gradually learn to tolerate them better."
And honey has been studied as an anti-inflammatory and a cough suppressant, so it makes sense that it might treat allergies as well.
"People believe that eating honey can help because honey contains some pollen—and people are basically thinking that regularly exposing the body to pollen will cause desensitization," says Dr. Gupta.
But here's the thing: not all pollen is created equal.
"Humans are mostly allergic to tree, grass, and weed pollen," says Dr. Gupta. "Bees don't like the pollen from trees, grass, and weeds, so those pollens aren't found in high quantities in honey; what's found is mostly flower pollen."
Pollen from flowering plants is heavy and just sits on the ground—so it doesn't cause allergic symptoms like lighter pollens (aka pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds) that is free-floating in the air and enter your nose, eyes, and lungs—and cause allergies, explains Dr. Gupta.
The other problem with the honey allergy treatment theory is that while it may contain pollen, there is no way to know what kind and how much is in it. "With allergy shots, we know exactly how much and which type of pollen is found in them—but we don't know this information about local honey," says Dr. Gupta.
And the science doesn't back it up either.
One study, published back in 2002 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, showed no difference among allergy sufferers who ate local honey, commercially processed honey, or a honey-flavored placebo.
And in fact, in rare cases, there might actually be a risk to trying local honey as a treatment. "In extremely sensitive individuals, the ingestion of unprocessed honey can result in an immediate allergic reaction involving the mouth, throat, or skin—such as itching, hives or swelling—or even anaphylaxis," says Dr. Gupta. "Such reactions may be related to either pollen that the person is allergic to or bee contaminants."
So eating local honey may not be the most effective seasonal allergy treatment. However, there are some things that can help keep symptoms under control.
"The best strategies for battling allergies are taking steps to limit your exposure to the things you're allergic to and taking the appropriate medications to keep symptoms under control," says William Reisacher, M.D., allergist, and director of Allergy Services at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. "If these strategies are not enough, talk to your ENT or general allergist about immunotherapy (or desensitization), a four-year treatment (allergy shots) that can improve symptoms, reduce your medication needs, and improve quality of life for decades."
You can also try oral immunotherapy. "We have approved oral immunotherapy for only certain pollens right now in the United States—grass and ragweed. These tablets are put under the tongue and the allergens are presented to the immune system through the mouth. It's a concentrated amount of allergen that we know will not cause a reaction but will help to desensitize your body," says Dr. Gupta.
TL; DR? Keep using honey in your tea, but maybe don't count on it as the answer to your allergy relief prayers. Sorry folks.
Raw honey contains bee pollen that can serve to eliminate the infection and alleviate the allergy suffered by someone. In fact, raw honey can be used to boost the immune system.
According to research that has been done, consuming honey with a dose that is high enough for eight weeks to give a good impact.
Other studies also mentioned that honey can reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis or inflammation in the nasal cavity.
This type of allergy can cause itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. To consume this honey can be tailored to your needs.
In addition, you can use a standard dose of one teaspoon or one tablespoon of honey. Of the various statements, if asked about how long does it take for honey to help allergies?
So, the answer is tailored to the condition of allergies experienced. However, the time required is not a little time.
This is because honey overcomes allergies naturally, so it takes quite a long time.
Local honey can also be useful for overcoming seasonal allergies that can cause sore throat, difficulty breathing, coughing, or headaches.
This local honey effectively acts as a good natural remedy for people with seasonal allergies. In addition, by regularly consuming local honey will help you increase immunity to local pollen.
Local honey significantly provides better control of allergy symptoms than conventional medicine. Therefore, you can consume raw honey regularly to cope with seasonal allergies and improve the immune system.
How Long Does It Take?
You can not be sure how long it takes you to recover from allergies using raw honey. Because consuming raw honey is not necessarily able to eliminate allergies that you experience.
However, honey may play a role in reducing the effects of the allergy. In this honey selection you should choose local honey because this stuff contain pollen from your area of residence.
Therefore, you can consume local raw crude directly or make it jam for bread. However, other studies say that consuming honey with high doses can actually increase the allergy.
The results of the study are very contradictory. In addition, the sample used in the study is still in a relatively small scale. Therefore, it is expected that there will be further research with more samples.
A study comparing consumed honey or pasteurized honey that has been sterilized with raw honey.
From the results of this study showed that people who consume raw honey have a greater likelihood of recovery from allergies experienced than people who consume processed honey or honey that is pasteurized.
The benefits of honey on this allergy can not be proven medically. However, some people can overcome their allergies by consuming raw honey.
It would be better if you consult a doctor when you want to consume raw honey to treat your allergies. You can estimate how long does it take for honey to help allergies with your doctor.
The course website and blog for the Fall 2016 instance of Penn State's SC200 course
Anyone who is heavily affected by allergies or is a constant victim of whatever is going around, knows that allergy season is not fun.
As someone who is always affected by allergy season, I’ve heard all the different remedies, but this one made me think and pose the question: Can eating local honey actually cure allergy symptoms? If it does, I might just be investing in some honey come spring time.
I found an article that talks about why eating a spoonful of local honey a day can alleviate your allergy symptoms. When bees go from flower to flower, they collect pollen spores and these spores are then transferred to honey. Because of this, your body can build an immunity to the pollen thus, “curing” your allergies.
However, even though there is great evidence currently supporting this method, in the past there was not. The New York Times released a study that is almost a decade old.
That 10 year old study was refuted this year when another study was done and the results were completely different.
This study looked at the pre-seasonal use of 2 types of honey: pollen infused (local) or regular honey. Then, compared this to people who just consumed their normal medication and looked at their symptoms.
44 patients that were diagnosed with birch pollen allergy either ate the pollen honey or regular honey daily from November to March. 17 patients made up of the control group who just used their normal allergy medication in order to reduce symptoms.
People who ate the birch pollen honey compared to the control group had:
- 60% reduction in symptoms
- Twice as many asymptomatic days
- 70% fewer days with intense symptoms
- 50% decrease in the need for antihistamines
Because there were two studies that contradicted one another, I wanted to find more supporting evidence on pollen honey consumption curing allergies. Personally, I don’t think that trying this honey method can do any harm. Honey has a wide variety of health benefits such as:
- Prevent cancer and heart disease
- Reduce ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues
- Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-fungal
- Increase athletic performance
- Reduce cough and throat soreness
- Balance the 5 elements
- Blood sugar regulation
- Heal wounds and burns
- Natural probiotic
- Strengthen the immune system
I wanted to include that in this article so that people see that even if it doesn’t help the allergy issue, it can many health benefits and can be used to help other problems.
The whole idea behind honey working to cure allergies is that it encourages a build up of immunity, just as allergy shots do.
Even though this method seems like a great homeopathic way to get through allergy season, it’s important to know that there are health risks when consuming raw, local honey. Because the bees’ pollen covered spores are infused in the honey and not being filtered out, it also means that bacteria and mold can potentially get in the honey. However, this does not mean that the local honey is always going to be infected, but just to be aware that with the pros of local honey also comes some cons.
After researching this topic, I think I am going to invest in some local honey and try the method out. As I said before, I really don’t think it does any harm in trying — especially if antihistamines aren’t cutting it.
4 thoughts on “ Can Eating Local Honey Cure Your Allergies? ”
I don’t suffer from allergies but its interesting to think honey can cure it. Seeing as that lots of allergies are caused by pollen which is a result of bees it funny that honey, another result from bees, can be the cure. The health risks of eating raw local honey sound pretty severe, only if it happens though. I wonder if there are other locally grow types of foods that can cure other types of health issues.
I suffer from severe allergies too and i find myself often buying allergy pills just to stop my nose from running and my cough from being a distraction. I can say confidently though I would much rather buy and eat honey than compared to buying tons of generic brand pills. I will absolutely take this study on personally and try it out on myself. Very well done and thank you for giving me something new to try.
As someone who gets horrible allergies, I’m surprised I have never heard of this method before. I’ll definitely be sure to try it next time especially because nothing else ever seems to work. The mechanism in how honey can help build immunity is very logical to me. There are so many health benefits to eating raw honey and on top of that a cure for my allergies, I don’t see any reason to not try this method at all!
Great Read! The moment I feel sniffles coming on I grab some local honey and eat it! I will eat it right out of the container or put it in some tea, but the results never change. my sniffles seem to go away within the next day. Now… could it be the placebo effect? Maybe, but I will say that I find it really hard to believe that the brain would be strong enough to make me “feel better” when I think I might be getting sick, the chances are there but probability wise, I doubt it. So glad you posted this? Did the study say anything on what amount you should consume or how often? Just curious