Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Cure for Allergies?

I heard an interesting folk remedy while listening to talk radio recently. Callers to the show claimed that consuming raw local honey would reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms. The reasoning behind the claim is that honey contains a lot of pollen from local flowers that might be causing allergy symptoms, and exposure to this pollen through the honey allows the allergy sufferer to develop resistance to the pollen.

This sounded dubious to me. I figured that exposing someone to allergens in honey would just cause them to have symptoms. Allergy symptoms are just an out-of-control immune reaction; I know of no way to reduce allergic reactions through greater exposure to the allergens.

Nonetheless a quick search the internet found this claim being promoted on a lot of sites. About.com wasn't enthusiastic, but didn’t rule out the possibility either.
My husband and I decided to give the local honey a try. My husband after just a few days noticed a significant difference in the way he felt. After one day of taking a teaspoon of local honey, my allergy symptoms got worse. I even tried a second day, but I continued to feel rotten so I discontiued using the honey.
On the other hand ReallyRawHoney.com is a big promoter of the idea:
An Oklahoma allergist told a meeting of 150 beekeepers that raw honey is an effective treatment for 90 per cent of all allergies. Dr. William G. Peterson, an allergist from Ada in the 1950's, said he now has 22,000 patients across the nation who are using raw honey along with more customary medications to relieve allergy symptoms.

"It must be raw honey because raw honey contains all the pollen, dust and molds that cause 90 per cent of all allergies," he told a meeting of the Oklahoma Beekeepers Association. "What happens is that the patient builds up an immunity to pollen, dust or mold that is causing his trouble in the first place. The raw honey must "not be strained, not even through a cloth." he added. "I know the customer wants good, clear strained honey, and that's fine, but for health reasons, raw honey is what we need."
If only Dr. Peterson’s statements constituted real evidence. Unfortunately, he has only provided a wealth of anecdotes. He has lots of patients using raw honey, but they’re also taking conventional allergy medications. What’s really needed is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to determine whether honey actually reduces allergy symptoms. Conveniently, a summary of such a study is available from PubMed.

Department of Pathology, UConn Health Center, Farmington 06030-3105, USA.

BACKGROUND: Allergic rhinoconjunctivitis is a common disorder, affecting >20% of people of all socioeconomic strata. Despite this high prevalence, relatively few sufferers seek professional medical help, presumably because of a widespread reliance on complementary remedies.

OBJECTIVE: We investigated the widely held belief among allergy-sufferers that regular ingestion of honey ameliorates the symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.

METHODS: The study was conducted at the University of Connecticut Health Center's Lowell P. Weicker General Clinical Research Center. Thirty-six participants who complained of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis were recruited. All recruits were scratch-tested at entry for common aeroallergens. The cohort was randomly assigned to one of three groups, with one receiving locally collected, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey, the second nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurized honey, and the third, corn syrup with synthetic honey flavoring. They were asked to consume one tablespoonful a day of the honey or substitute and to follow their usual standard care for the management of their symptoms. All participants were instructed to maintain a diary tracking 10 subjective allergy symptoms, and noting the days on which their symptoms were severe enough to require their usual antiallergy medication.

RESULTS: Neither honey group experienced relief from their symptoms in excess of that seen in the placebo group.

CONCLUSIONS: This study does not confirm the widely held belief that honey relieves the symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.

Emphasis mine.

This was a pretty small study, of course, having only 36 participants, so it’s just a preliminary result. Nonetheless, it’s a preliminary result that seems to refute claims that eating raw honey will reduce allergy symptoms. Furthermore, a number of the websites discussing the subject noted that some people actually had worse symptoms after taking raw honey (which is what I would expect if the honey actually contains something to which the person might react).

Pending further study, I’d say its reasonable to assume that eating lots of raw honey does not reduce allergy symptoms, and eating honey containing your specific allergens might actually cause an attack. Be smart: take your medication and get your honey filtered.

5 comments:

Elena de Toledo said...

I know Z at the Cumberland Center believes that eating raw honey helps her allergies. That's what she and John keep beehives for.

As for my guess on its potential benefits/drawbacks, it seems to be the same concept as allergy-shot treatment. It's just that the shot doses begin with much smaller amounts and become more concentrated over the course of treatment. If you see a noticeable difference, then you do this for several years. (If you don't, you might as well quit.) When you are finished with your shot treatment, you either: a) relapse within a year, b) relapse over several years, or c) retain the allergen build-up that you've achieved over the course of treatment. From what my allergist said, the results are about even among those 3 options. I have no desire to spend years of my life going to the allergist once-thrice a week getting shots for something that's only 1/3 likely to work after several years are over.

I do know that while I was living among dogs, I wasn't nearly as allergic to them as I am now that I'm not living with them. Have things happened to me between now and then to underscore that difference? Sure. It's not a perfect correlation, but there is the potential, and each reaction will be different. For some it probably will help. For others it won't.

On a lark, I figured I would try it since it's a bit more convenient than getting allergy shots, but as of yet haven't eaten any of the local honey we've bought. I'll let you know how it goes. =)

Anonymous said...

I was surfing for info on allergies, and I came accross this post.

I've heard much higher success rates in allergy shots from the multiple doctors I've had over the ages. And yes, that is precisely the same concept with shots. However, unlike pollen, which has unknown types and quatities of the allergens, shots have very specific, measured, and custom-designed regimens specifically made to help the person requiring them. Additionally, unlike honey, which will largely be digested and excreted, shots are administered into the person's system. So in theory, I expect honey could work for some people. But it is far more of a luck shot, and a rather dangerous proposition when one considers the idea of introducing an unmeasured quantity of known allergens into their system. Additionally, raw honey is a known carrier of E. Coli and is strictly advised against for infants do to the strong possiblity of fatality. Not the sort of thing I'd want to have in my system, personally.

However, there is an immune suppresant drug stalled in legal proceedings that promises to potentially solve the allergy problem. Reportedly allergies are the result of an overreaction on the immune system known as a cytokene storm. It's the same response that leads to fatal cases of the flu. This new drug supposedly halts the cytokene storm by deactivating the immune cells that are stuck in the 'on' mode, which is the root cause. However, it has yet to see human trials due to legal wranglings over which drug company owns the rights to the formula.

Anonymous said...

I have been taking a tablespoon of raw local honey everyday for the past 3 days and I feel some relief, but I do wake up with the inside of my nose (just on one side) being very itchy and I dont know how to get rid of this! Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Your article was compelling except the research done left out one vital variable: How long was the treatment performed for? The honey solution is supposed to work after being done for a month or so, and the user is supposed to be cured for good. So if the research was done after only a couple of days or even weeks, that would effect the results.

Crystal Smith said...

I think you didn't cover a couple of variables that might affect whether the honey was useful or not. First, it likely needs to be local honey, or else one wouldn't be receiving the local pollens one is having allergic reactions to.

Second, I think the quality of honey varies considerably. Here's an article about key relevance factors of honey, for reference.