SEASONAL SNEEZING - DOES HONEY HELP WITH ALLERGIES?
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
It all starts with microscopic protein particles called "pollen" which are made by the male parts of flowers and tree blossoms. When these tiny particles come into contact with female flower parts, a seed is created. Pollen is spread from plant to plant by floating through the air or by catching a ride on insects, birds or other animals. This is called "cross-pollination" and it results in stronger plants. But how do these tiny protein particles end up causing so much misery for so many people? For that, you can blame your immune system.
Your immune system is a complex combination of chemical and biological defenses that your body uses to stop harmful invaders such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Pollen is not among these. But sometime in your past, your immune system misjudged pollen to be a harmful bodily invader, and it was thereafter classified as a threat. This is known as becoming "sensitized" to pollen. Once this false imprint is complete, it cannot be undone. You will have pollen allergies for the rest of your life. Or maybe not - keep reading.
How Did You Become Sensitized to Pollen?
There are two possible explanations. First, genetics. Pollen sensitivity can be passed from generation to generation via genetic coding. If you are in this category, then you can thank your parents or grandparents. A second possible explanation is something called "co-infection." If maybe you had a bad cold or the flu at the same time that a certain plant pollen was prevalent, then your immune system may have mistakenly concluded that this pollen caused your cold or flu. This could explain why some people can live for years in a certain location without any issues and then, all of the sudden, they develop pollen allergies.
After you become sensitized, when pollen particles enter through your nose, eyes or mouth, your immune system springs into action. Immune cells start producing protein particles called anti-bodies. These anti-bodies are similar to pitchforks. They pick up the pollen and transport it over to the nearest white blood cells. Upon contact, your white blood cells immediately release a class of chemicals called "histamines." These histamines trigger your body to start itching, watering, sneezing and wheezing in an effort to expel the pollen from your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. These symptoms continue as long as pollen continues to enter the body, or until the pollen sensitivity subsides.
How Do Common Drugstore Allergy Meds Work?
Most common allergy medications are anti-histamines.These chemicals are designed to interfere with your natural immune system and stop the body from releasing histamines. Some medications are combined with decongestants, which reduce the fluid in the lining of your nose. This, in turn, reduces congestion and swelling. Common allergy medications can provide full or partial relief from your coughing, wheezing and sneezing, depending on genetics (again) and the severity of the pollen season.
Does Honey Help with Allergies?
This is actually a more controversial question than you might think. On one side of the debate are those who say that scientific studies do not support the claim that raw honey is beneficial for treating seasonal allergies. It is interesting how this side includes a number of allergy doctors and drug companies. On the other side are thousands of testimonials from people who have tried it and who say that honey does help with allergies. For example, one customer from Mississippi told us: "I take tupelo honey every day for allergies. I have not sneezed from hay fever or been unable to breath for a few years." It should be no surprise that beekeepers tend to be in this second group.
How Does Honey Help with Allergies?
Assuming that raw honey does provide some relief from pollen allergies, how might it work? The theory is simple. Honey in beehives contains pollen particles from the trees and plants visited by bees. Bees bring in this pollen voluntarily (packed onto their hind legs) and involuntarily (sticking to the tiny hairs on their bodies). If the honey is not filtered during harvesting and processing, then this pollen remains in the honey that we eat. But the pollen found in raw honey is at relatively low levels. In addition, raw honey contains various beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals. In this harmonious combination, over time and with repeated exposure, your body may become less sensitive to the pollen. So, in some way, your immune system is being reprogrammed to stop reacting to pollen as a bad thing. Once this relearning is completed, pollen no longer triggers the negative reactions of before.
This effect, however, is definitely gradual and does not work for everyone. We know of one case where a father was cured of his moderate springtime allergies by using raw honey daily, but his son ate the same honey and it did nothing for his pollen sensitivity. In our experience, for best results, at least 2 teaspoons of good quality, raw honey should be consumed daily throughout the entire year. And if you are just starting with raw honey, then you should begin this regimen well in advance of springtime (like the winter before).
What About Eating Honeycomb?
DeForest Clinton Jarvis graduated from the University of Vermont Medical College in 1904 and opened a private medical clinic in Barre, Vermont in 1909. But only a few patients were coming into his office, and he wanted to know why. When he started asking around, the locals replied that they always used home remedies for their illnesses. Only when such remedies failed did they seek out a doctor. For Dr. Jarvis, that started a life-long study of home remedies, eventually leading to the publication of his best-selling book "Folk Medicine" in 1958. One of the folk remedies that receives a lot of attention in his book is honey and honeycomb. In the chapter on honey, Dr. Jarvis notes: "Vermont folk medicine divides hay fever into three classes: mild, moderately severe and severe. Its treatment is both preventative and symptomatic. If honeycomb cappings are chewed once a day for one month before the expected hay fever date, the hay fever will either not appear or will be mild in character."
There is not a lot of scientific study regarding this claim. But it does make logical sense. Honeycomb will have even more pollen particles than raw honey. Plus, honeycomb and beeswax may contain additional, beneficial substances that are not necessarily present in honey alone. So as Dr. Jarvis concludes, there is at least enough anecdotal evidence to give plausibility to this time-tested remedy of eating raw honey and chewing on raw honeycomb.