Honey, Help Me
The idea that consuming honey being able to alleviate allergy symptoms has been around for a very long time. It’s a bit of a complex issue.
There’s the pollen, there’s the honey and there’s the person. All of these things and the things about them have to be taken into consideration.
The basic idea falls into a treatment or therapy called immunotherapy. Trying to get the human body to build up an immunity to the agent through minor exposure is what’s going on.
First of all, honey, raw honey is what we’re talking about in this case, has a number of extras in it that get processed out through filtering and pasteurization otherwise. Honey entirely unfiltered will have a certain limited amount of pollen grains mixed in it. Most honey, even processed has some amount of pollen grains, only raw honey has the most not having any filtered out.
Consider also that most honey is harvested in the late Summer and early Fall. To have the type of pollen necessary to make immunotherapy work, there has to be enough for the body to work with yet not so much as to trigger the allergic reaction that we are trying to reduce.
Some suggest there may even be trace amounts of bee venom in honey. Not very likely as the “business end” of the bees where venom is produced, stored and released has nothing to do with and is nowhere near the cells when nectar is being deposited, sugars are inverted and it is dehydrated to turn it into honey. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just highly improbable.
Another much more valid concern is that the honey is not dehydrated enough (ideally between 17 and 18 percent water) and may become fermented, moldy or otherwise compromised. Again, not likely but it does happen if beekeepers aren’t checking the honey they harvest properly.
A third concern is that of certain bacteria called “Botulism”. It’s interesting to note that websites like WebMD add a warning about unprocessed honey possibly leading to botulism when raw honey naturally contains certain enzymes which inhibit and prevent the presence of many bacteria, botulism being one of them. The very act of pasteurization kills the inhibiting enzymes, thereby allowing bacteria to grow unchecked. Though the author of the article at WebMD and others similar fail to acknowledge this. I suspect their study for such articles failed to even include talking with a beekeeper or beekeeping related research person.
Because plant pollens are very largely genetically similar, the saying that, “The Devil is in the details” applies here. Honey is mostly collected later in the year and primarily from every flowering plant the bees find. However, some of the biggest pollen allergy triggers are from grass and grain pollens. The bees rarely pick these types of pollens up. If a persons allergic responses are primarily exclusive to grass pollens, honey won’t bee the source of relief they had been hoping for.
Also, in unfiltered, raw honey, there potentially could be enough of a pollen type present to initiate an allergic response in someone who might likely not even know they had an allergy to a particular type of pollen. It has happened.
Of course, people themselves are each different and have different reactions to exposure to various stimuli. The severity or degree of allergic response is unique for each person. Each individual also has their own immune system that may be strong or not-so-strong depending on a variety of factors.
One person with few allergy triggers and a strong immune system may find that only a small amount of honey in only a few instances has helped them feel better. Someone else with perhaps a lower immune system might need more or more frequent consuming of honey to experience relief. It’s all a big crapshoot really.
So, Can it or Can’t it?
Ultimately yes, raw honey has been found to help people with certain types of pollen allergies find a reduction in allergic responses and experience some degree of relief from allergy symptoms. Whether it can help for any person will require some experimentation by that person. Trying various amounts, various frequency of intake, even different honeys from different areas might make a difference. Or, it might not make any difference at all for those unlucky enough to have the wrong pollen allergy, low immune systems, greater allergic symptom responses or some combination of any or all of these.
One thing I can tell you for sure is, honey tastes so darn good, it makes all the experimentation worthwhile.