Will bee puke help my runny nose?
August 24, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Does local honey really help with hayfever? Or is it an urban legend?

My allergies are acting up again, and even drugs are useless against the onslaught of snot and watery eyes. My girlfriend and others have suggested local honey. A couple of Ask MetaFilter threads also tout local honey.

But since bees visit flowers where they get big fat otherwise immobile pollen and allergies are caused by wind-born pollen, how can this possibly work? I mean maybe I'm allergic to clover or apple pollen, but I wouldn't know that unless I go up to said flower and snort. But it is the birch or ragweed that most people are allergic to - since it is wind pollinated how will that show up in the local honey at all?
Seems to be a logical/botanical disconnect that I can't wrap my head around.

As I happen to loathe honey to the point of gagging, I really don't want to chow down on bee vomit unless I know it will work - and it seems that logically it shouldn't.

Google turns up sites stating that it is good, but none on *how* it can possible be good.

So if there are any allergists or botanists around, is there legitimate scientific evidence of local honey easing allergies or is it placebo effect?
posted by xetere to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This kinda, sorta, in-a-way explains it:

It may seem odd that straight exposure to pollen often triggers allergies but that exposure to pollen in the honey usually has the opposite effect. But this is typically what we see. In honey the allergens are delivered in small, manageable doses and the effect over time is very much like that from undergoing a whole series of allergy immunology injections. The major difference though is that the honey is a lot easier to take and it is certainly a lot less expensive

From here
posted by bunglin jones at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2006

And re-reading your question, I'm not sure that my answer helped at all. Sorry about that.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:50 AM on August 24, 2006

Try the Dolisos spray for your area.
posted by brujita at 8:55 AM on August 24, 2006

There's an article in Current Opinion in Allergy & Clinical Immunology (3(5):395-399, October 2003. Bielory, Leonard and Heimall, Jennifer) that says that other studies show no effect on ocular manifestations of allergy, but I can't see the studies they cite for that since I can't get past the abstract right now.

There are a few references to allergic reactions to objects in honey, mentioned briefly in some articles about desensitization to bee venom, but they're all 'rare'.

I'm one of those people who thinks it helps, but I think it's helped desensitize me to allergens in general, somehow, since I know my allergies are primarily to elm and I don't think bees deal with them. On the other hand, it was try honey or deal with meds that either put me to sleep or gave me a 180 bpm resting heart rate.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2006

Your question aroused my curiosity and so I did a quick OVID (a medical literature database going back to 1966) search on honey and allergy. It returned 25 results. The vast majority of them concerned allery to honey (which is rare but not unheard of), especially whether it was an allergy to the pollen in the honey or to the bee proteins in the honey. There was one article which purported to show some improvement in psoriasis with honey applicationm but that is not what you asked. Another article was a case report of a man who had developed anaphylaxis on exposure to rose pollen who also developed symptoms on exposure to honey, indicating that honey might actually exacerbate your symptoms, and, finally, one article addressing your question that found no, honey does not appear to be helpful in treating allergic rhinitis. Here are the citations for the last two if you want to try and find the articles (I just read the abstracts):

Karakaya G. Kalyoncu AF. A case of anaphylaxis due to rose pollen ingestion. [Case Reports. Journal Article] Allergologia et Immunopathologia. 31(2):91-3, 2003 Mar-Apr.

Rajan TV. Tennen H. Lindquist RL. Cohen L. Clive J. Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. [Clinical Trial. Journal Article. Randomized Controlled Trial] Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. 88(2):198-203, 2002 Feb.
posted by TedW at 9:16 AM on August 24, 2006

Here's the relevant passage from the article cobaltnine mentions:

Honey has anecdotally been reported to modulate the allergic response of seasonal allergy sufferers. In a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study comparing the effects of pasteurized honey, unpasteurized honey and placebo, 36 patients ingested 1 tablespoon of honey/day for 195 days during peak allergy seasons (May-August). The patients rated the severity of the following symptoms: sore eyes, swollen eyes, watery eyes, itchy eyes, headache, runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, post-nasal drip and stuffy blocked nose. No change in symptoms was noted consistently when honey users were compared with the placebo-controlled group [15•]

and their general conclusion:

A few well designed studies have shown efficacy for the allergy specific use of butterbur (Petasine plants) and acupuncture; symptomatic efficacy with use of Euphrasia and behavior modification; and a possible preventive role for homeopathy and other alternative routes of immunotherapy.

posted by noloveforned at 9:18 AM on August 24, 2006

To add a little more, I was able to look up the review article cobaltnine cited and as it turns out, the only study involving honey they referenced was the one I mentioned above.
posted by TedW at 9:23 AM on August 24, 2006

i tried this for a season, starting the fall prior to the spring allergy season in New England. Just one tablespoon of honey a day.

It did nothing as far as I could tell. Well I find honey a lot less desirable now, but the allergies went unscathed.

For what it's worth I had crazy debilitating allergies since early childhood, I've done everything from shots, just about every prescription med available up till around '98 and nasal steroids. Nothing worked and I stopped trying to cure them with medicine. However, once I stopped drinking milk, within a season or two I went from being broken between march and november, to a few outbreaks (like today) in mid spring and early fall. Coincidence? Probably, but something certainly changed.
posted by paxton at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2006

Nothing to say about honey (except yum) but I'll provide another anecdotal data point for what paxton has said -- when my mother developed a lactose intolerance (and gave up dairy), she found her very severe hay fever subsided dramatically. The cure is worse than the disease, in my opinion, but if you are looking for any sort of non-pharmaceutical cure for your allergies, try cutting out the milk.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:58 AM on August 24, 2006

That's a fascinating anecdote, Rock Steady; if one function of milk is to program the immune system of nursing young, we could speculate that the programming meant for a calf, which will have a very different relationship with the plant world than we do, involving lots of to us inedible weeds and some problems of detoxification, might do some weird things to the human immune system.

This is especially interesting since a new view of IgE (the mediator of allergies) is that it evolved to deal with venoms, which would extend to plant poisons, too, of course.
posted by jamjam at 10:40 AM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

My allergies seem less severe when I'm ingesting less of dairy as well. I always assumed this was related to a decrease of mucus in my system.
posted by nadawi at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2006


She benefitted greatly from dropping dairy, including better skin (she has some dry skin problems) and better overall energy levels. She is now less rigorous about banning dairy from her diet, but she knows that she will suffer in several ways when she binges on Ben & Jerry's these days.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2006

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