Does Honey Prevent Allergies?
Luqman Seidu, MD
You’re buried beneath a mountain of tissues and can barely keep your eyelids open after a dose of allergy meds. You remember hearing that small amounts of local honey can help keep sniffles at bay. Does it work?
Theory vs. Practice
The idea that honey can prevent allergies is based on a concept called immunotherapy. The theory makes sense, but there are problems.
It boils down to this, says allergist Neeta Ogden, MD: You get a tiny amount of the thing you’re allergic to, which can make you less sensitive to it.
Over time and with bigger doses, your body builds up immunity to the allergen. It’s the same idea behind allergy shots.
Some people think eating local honey works the same way because it contains pollen. One issue with that theory: There’s no way to know exactly what’s in your honey. “With immunotherapy, we isolate the exact allergen patients are allergic to,” Ogden says.
And there’s a bigger problem: You’re probably not allergic to the pollen found in the honey. “It’s a big misconception that insect-borne pollen from flowers has something to do with allergies,” Ogden says. “It doesn’t.”
Not the Allergen You’re Looking For
Pollen from weeds, trees, and grasses is the leading cause of seasonal allergies. Wind usually whips the yellowy dust from these plants into the air.
Bees, which make honey, tend to pick up pollen from brightly colored flowers. Pollen from these blooms rarely causes allergies.
So even if local honey contains pollen, it’s unlikely that it’s behind your allergy symptoms, Ogden says.
Doctors have researched the issue. Their findings: Honey doesn’t work. One study had people with allergies eat 1 tablespoon of local honey per day. Their symptoms didn’t get better -- not even compared to folks who didn’t down any of the sticky stuff.
Honey Has Health Risks
When people talk about eating honey to prevent allergies, they don’t mean the kind at the supermarket that comes in a plastic bear. It’s often local, unprocessed honey. And it can have some pretty nasty stuff in it, from bee parts to mold spores and bacteria. These things are usually removed during commercial processing.