One of the most popular natural treatments for allergies is local bee pollen and local honey.
There’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest that taking these substances on a routine basis may help the body build a tolerance to local allergens found in both bee pollen and honey.
But how effective are these treatments? Do allergy sufferers actually see a reduction in symptoms? And are there other — more effective — methods that may help treat allergy symptoms at their root cause?
When plants, trees and flowers bloom in the spring, they release particles of pollen into the air. Since pollen’s main job is to pollinate other plants, it does so by traveling through the air and affixing itself to the plants that need pollination.
Just as plants need the pollen of other plants to pollinate and produce seeds, bees need pollen to make honey.
As the bees travel from plant to plant, they collect more and more pollen, often dropping grains already collected from previous plants. Bee pollination is one way plants are able to reproduce.
Pollen also happens to be the sticky substance that causes allergy symptoms. As it travels through the air, it affixes itself to other plants — but it also may stick to your clothes, hair and skin or blow right into your eyes, nose and mouth.
When pollen enters the body, some people’s immune systems don’t recognize this substance and instead view it as a threat. The body releases histamines to fight this allergen. While histamines are effective at fighting infections and other issues, they may also cause swelling, irritation, sneezing, itching, watering and other allergy symptoms.
Since local bees use the pollen of local flowers to make honey, trace amounts of pollen are found in local honey. Some researchers believe that taking small amounts of honey or bee pollen may help the body build resistance to local pollens.
The amount of pollen in honey is very small.
Research shows that introducing small amounts of an allergen to the body may help the immune system build a tolerance to the allergen and stop seeing pollen as a threat. This is called allergy immunotherapy.
There’s some anecdotal evidence that suggests that when people with allergies eat local honey (or consume local bee pollen) on a regular basis, their bodies may also learn to stop seeing pollen as a threat and develop an immunity to it.
Sadly, there aren’t enough studies to validate this honey hypothesis. While allergy immunotherapy has been proven effective in allergy shots and sublingually, we need more widespread research before we can truly understand the effects local honey has on allergies.
There are some risks to taking both bee pollen and honey.
Some people are allergic to the honey itself (in addition to pollen) and shouldn’t consume or use honey topically under any circumstance. Honey also contains sugar, which can lead to complications for people with conditions such as diabetes.
Bee pollen may cause side effects, such as gastrointestinal issues, shortness of breath and rashes. It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any at-home or natural treatments.
Doctors also do not recommend feeding honey or pollen to children under the age of one. Doing so may cause botulism. Talk to your pediatrician before giving bee pollen to children under the age of 12.
Bee pollen is sold in health food stores in both powder and supplement form.
The powdered form may be added to food or beverages, such as smoothies, salad dressings, yogurt or other soft foods. Or, you can simply take the powder by itself or mix it with water.
Some people don’t like the taste of bee pollen so they opt to take it in supplement form.
Again, talk to your doctor before taking bee pollen and start with a smaller dose to ensure you don’t experience any reactions or side effects.
When taking honey for allergies, you’ll want to go local.
Local honey may contain local pollen — meaning the pollen you’re exposed to during allergy season.
Because of this, most honey producers label where the honey is from directly on the jar.
One study showed that taking one gram of honey per kilogram of body weight may help improve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
More studies are needed on the effects of local bee pollen and local honey on allergies.
But researchers have proven that introducing small amounts of local allergens to the body may help the immune system stop overreacting and releasing histamines.
While the efficacy of bee pollen and honey immunotherapy is still up for debate, doctors have been administering other types of immunotherapy for over 100 years.
Allergy immunotherapy injections have been administered by doctors in the U.S. for decades. This type of immunotherapy introduces small amounts of allergens by way of injection.
Patients most often visit their doctor or allergist weekly for the first few months to receive injections and then monthly for the next few years.
This type of immunotherapy has proven safe and effective, though there is a chance of anaphylaxis with subcutaneous immunotherapy, which is why medical professionals may require patients to remain in the office for observation for up to 45 minutes after the shot is administered.
Another type of immunotherapy that has been used for decades in Europe is sublingual immunotherapy — or small doses of allergens introduced to the body orally, usually underneath the tongue.
Anaphylaxis is less common with sublingual immunotherapy, so patients may be able to take daily doses at home without doctor supervision.
Most patients report a decrease of symptoms within six months, and many patients are able to decrease their doses of antihistamines, steroids and nasal sprays within three years of treatment.