Is Local Honey the Sweet Cure for Your Allergy Symptoms?

by Lola Rosewig on April 10, 2013

Sneezing? Coughing? Congested? Dry and itchy eyes? Yup. It’s that time of year when seasonal allergies have us reaching for anti-histamine and other anti-allergy medications to rein in our unpleasant allergy symptoms.

“I wish I could smell the roses…
if only I weren’t so stuffed up”
(Photo courtesy of pierofix via photopin.com)

Well, what about reaching for some delicious local honey?

Huh?

Will honey help you?

If you are unfamiliar with this idea, there is a belief that consuming honey produced in your local area will ameliorate your seasonal allergy symptoms. The logic goes that local honey will contain small amounts of pollen from flowers to which you are commonly exposed in your local vicinity. And that these small exposures to pollen can help your body to be less sensitive (and have less allergic response) to pollen when you encounter it as you take a deep breath of the fresh spring air.

This seems logical. It’s actually a similar idea to immunotherapy (also know as desensitization immunotherapy or allergen-specific immunotherapy). Since an allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a normally innocuous environmental stimulus, physicians may treat allergic patients with injections of small but escalating doses of specific allergens in order to stimulate induction of regulatory T-cells (T-regs) (Murphy 2012). These T-regs are responsible for keeping the immune response in check.

If you are interested in more details on the mechanisms of immunotherapy, check out this review article.

So sure, consuming local honey seems a little like DIY immunotherapy for allergy sufferers who can’t handle the plentiful pollination that occurs come spring.

But is there any scientific research to support this practice?

The answer is NOT MUCH. I was only able to find one study, in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, that specifically addresses the question of local honey and allergies. These researchers randomized participants into one of three treatment groups including: (1) locally collected, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey; (2) nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurized honey; or (3) corn syrup with synthetic honey flavoring as a control. Over the course of the 30-week study, participants recorded the severity of their allergic symptoms (which included 10 different variables such as “runny nose,” “itchy eyes,” “post-nasal drip,” and so on). The analysis of the results showed no significant differences between the groups, meaning that local honey was no better at relieving allergy symptoms than normal commercial honey, or corn syrup—which is to say not very effective at all.

So unfortunately, the answer to the titular question seems to be NO. Or at least not likely, based on current research. However, if you love honey (like I do), you should still enjoy it (unless of course you are allergic to honey, or under the age of two). And when possible buy local to support your local apiary!

Local beekeepers need your support!

References:

James, L.K. & Durham, S.R. (2008). Update on mechanisms of allergen injection immunotherapy. Clinical and Experimental Allergy; 38: 1074-1088.  doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.02976.x.

Murphy, K. (2012). Janeway’s Immunobiology (8th ed.) New York, NY: Garland Science, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Rajan, T.V., Tennen, H., Lindquist, R.L., Cohen, L., & Clive, J. (2002). Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; 88: 198-203. doi:10.1016/S1081-1206(10)61996-5.