Honey for Allergies and Asthma

Woman pouring honey on a piece of bread.

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You may have heard that honey is a natural remedy for allergies. Is there truth to this claim? On the other hand, are there any reasons for caution?

Why Would It Work?

It is a popular notion that eating honey—especially locally grown honey—is a natural remedy for allergies and asthma. In fact, bee pollen—available without a prescription at most health food stores—is commonly marketed as a natural allergy remedy and an anti-inflammatory agent. Other names for commercially available bee pollen include royal jelly or propolis. The theory behind the use of honey is that honey carries various ingredients, including pollen allergens and components of honeybees.

This is an important question considering that 40 million Americans cope with seasonal allergies to pollen of some form. Yet does it work?

Studies on Honey and Allergies

In order to determine if a therapy works, it must be compared to placebo. There are only two well-designed studies looking specifically at the role of honey in allergic rhinitis (hayfever).

A 2002 study compared 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 one in three 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.

A 2013 study from Malaysia did find some benefit related to the consumption of honey. Those who ate honey (a gram of honey for each kilogram of body weight daily) had improved symptoms of allergic rhinitis when compared to those who ate similar amounts of honey-flavored corn syrup.

The consensus at this time is that more studies are needed to further investigate the possible benefits of honey for the treatment of allergies.

Why Locally Produced Honey?

Locally produced honey, which supposedly contains local plant pollens to which a person would be allergic, is thought to be 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 (allergy drops taken under the tongue) works. And, the fact that many people have experienced anaphylaxis (a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction) from eating honey means that there may be enough pollen to stimulate the immune system.

Could Eating Honey for Allergies Be Dangerous?

It could be argued based on these studies and mechanism that it couldn't hurt to try honey, but it's important to note that honey can, though rare, cause severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) in people who tend to have allergies. So while consuming local honey for your allergies may sound like a good idea, it could be argued as well that consuming honey could increase your risk of a serious allergic reaction. Going with this train of thought, those who are living with allergies may be just those people who are most sensitive to life-threatening reactions from eating locally produced honey, due to the pollen and venom content of this food.

Bottom Line

Overall, it's likely that the benefit of eating honey for allergies is mostly a placebo effect. At the same time, eating honey carries a real, though rare risk of inducing a serious allergic reaction.

Other Health Benefits

Even if honey doesn't help with allergies, there may be other benefits. According to a 2016 review in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, been pollen does appear to have some benefit as a dietary supplement, particularly with regard to wound healing.

Other Natural Remedies for Allergies and Asthma

It's also important to note that there are a few natural remedies for allergies and asthma which may be of benefit (though studies to date are fairly small). These include quercetin (by inhibiting the release of histamine) and omega-3-fatty acids. The herbs butterbur and nettle have also been studied for their possible effects on allergies. In addition to these, acupuncture, as well as nasal irrigation, are natural remedies which may have some benefit for those who are bothered by seasonal allergies.

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