A runny nose. Itchy, red eyes. Perpetual throat irritation. If you’re one of the 50 million Americans suffering seasonal allergies every year, you know these symptoms all too well. Medically speaking, seasonal allergies are lumped into a larger subgroup of respiratory allergies, which include hay fever and pollen, mold, dust, dog, and cat allergies. The most popular treatment options for these conditions are prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Eye drops, antihistamines, and decongestants are part of the cocktail allergy sufferers use to self-medicate. But there could be a better way. Using local raw honey for allergies could be the home remedy you’ve been searching for.
Local Honey’s Health Benefits
In late 2016, Penn State University published a report about a new study focusing on local honey’s positive effects. In the study, 44 patients with a birch pollen allergy ate either local honey (with pollen) or regular honey from November to March. Another 17 patients, the control group, used normal allergy medication during the same period.
Relative to the control group, subjects who ate the birch pollen honey saw a 60% reduction in their symptoms, which also resulted in this group requesting antihistamines half as frequently as the control group. It was undeniable—the local honey affected those with seasonal allergies in significant ways. But proof of honey’s healing power has been circulating for much longer than a year.
In 2011, CBS Minnesota (WCCO) ran a story about a local beekeeper named Bob Sitko. Sitko had dealt with terrible allergies for years but he just self-medicated or, even worse, suffered through his symptoms. One of his co-workers shared that raw honey would effectively fight off his symptoms. Shortly after, he noticed a bee hive on his property and soon became a beekeeper to start producing his own honey. His bees produce upwards of 2,000 pounds of honey each year. But even more impressive, he’s allergy-free and he’s helping his local community boost their health as well.
Also, in a recent interview with Rodale’s Organic Life, author Ron Fessenden cited honey’s antiseptic, antifungal, and antibiotic properties, which can aid many conditions far beyond allergies. Fessenden published The New Honey Revolution in 2014. The book is touted as the definitive source on honey’s many health benefits.
Clearly, honey is one of our greatest defenses in the fight against allergy season. But why?
Why It Works
The theory is quite simple. Bees create honey by collecting nectar from various flowers. Once they get this nectar back to the hive, it’s converted to simple sugar and stored in the honeycomb. Thanks to the honeycomb’s design and the ongoing fanning of bees’ wings, there’s an evaporation process that converts the simple sugar to its sweet liquid form.
There are more than 300,000 plant species on Earth that produce pollen. It’s part of the pollination and reproduction process. So, while the bees are hopping from flower to flower, they’re also inadvertently collecting pollen, both on their bodies and in the nectar that will later turn into honey. By shopping for local honey, it’s likely that the same pollen causing your seasonal allergies is also in the honey your local bees are producing.
When you eat raw honey that contains pollen, it trains your immune system to tolerate it. Thus, over time, you become immune to those pollen as allergens. You’re most likely to experience relief from your allergy symptoms if your honey is both raw and local (or from the same plant source that aggravates your allergies). It must be raw because regular honey goes through a filtration process, in which foreign particles are extracted. And it must be local as to contain the same pollen as those you’re likely to encounter in your nearby area.
Why Aren’t More People Using Local Honey for Allergies?
We’d be remiss to broach this topic without discussing the evidence against it. There are many doctors and researchers who are convinced honey has no effects, positive or negative, on seasonal allergies. These non-believers most often cite a 2002 study conducted by the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Lowell P. Weicker General Clinical Research Center. In that study, 36 participants were fed either local honey, regular processed honey, or a corn syrup with synthetic honey flavoring. Neither honey group exhibited any significant changes in their allergy symptoms. Many years later, this is still the source of many doctors’ and reporters’ denouncement of honey as a home remedy for allergies.
But there’s one big problem with this study. There’s no information available about the exact allergies these participants had or whether the local honey was pulled from each specific participant’s community. Let’s say these subjects were pulled from five different areas but tested with honey sourced from only one region. Then, the study would be inconclusive, because the testing would only prove effective if the honey was sourced from nearby each participant’s home.
Yet still, flaws and all, major publications like the New York Times have relied on this study.
Additionally, general attitudes toward homeopathic treatment methods may affect views of honey’s effectiveness as a medical treatment. A 2015 Berkeley Wellness report claimed homeopathic medicine worked no better than its antibiotic counterparts. That same year, Consumer Reports also called their effectiveness into question. So, the argument against honey may not be really be about honey at all but about a greater reliance and belief in pharmaceutical drugs.
The Final Verdict
Surely, you’re wondering if this is right for you. On one hand, there’s a scientific study as well as locally reported instances of honey easing allergy symptoms. On the other, there’s a 2002 study that serves as the primary argument against honey as an allergy reliever. But that study’s methodology may have been questionable. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.
As with any type of medical treatment—OTC, prescription, or home remedy—take the time to consider all your options. But keep in mind, honey has been proven to do more than just heal allergy symptoms. It promotes more restful sleep, provides natural energy, soothes the throat, and serves as a rich antioxidant source. With all these benefits, trying local raw honey might improve not only your allergies, but many of the other risk factors that typically contribute to seasonal illness. Plus, you’ll be supporting a local beekeeper and receiving a sweet treat in return.