Monday, August 13, 2007

Don’t Discount Use of Raw Honey to Treat Allergies

Comment from BEE-L:

Just a few observations to add to the debate on honey and allergies. Folk are quite right to say that science hasn't confirmed the effect but, as a scientist, I have to add that science isn't perfect. I'm only aware of one study that attempted to address the question in a properly controlled manner and it failed to find an effect. Could have been unlucky with the source of local honey, or maybe they didn't feed the subjects honey for long enough. For me, lots of anecdotal reports versus one negative well-controlled study leaves me thinking that the effect could still be there.

There is plenty of evidence that injecting small amounts of allergen, usually starting with a tiny quantity and gradually building up over time, desensitises patients to bee venom (been through that myself), wasp/yellowjacket venom, cat dander, and even grass and ragweed pollen. There are apparently a group of cats somewhere in Germany getting shaved from time to time to recover dried saliva to inject into patients!

Perhaps honey is providing an oral source of tiny amounts of allergen, and maybe that allergen is a protein sufficiently stable to cross the gut wall, become systemic, and have its desensitising effect. We're talking protein molecules rather than intact pollen grains (I think that it was Laurie Croft that put into print the completely erroneous view that whole pollen gets into the blood!)

Does unfiltered unheated honey contain airborne pollen? Yup, a small amount. I've counted the pollen types in individual pollen loads coming back to a hive and noted a small number of airborne pollen grains of the abundant airborne types at the time - grass and nettle. One or two per thousand of them in pollen loads that are predominantly brassica or clover or willowherb/fireweed. Some of that will get into honey. Is it enough? No idea, but it is there. Honeybees do sometimes deliberately gather grass or tree catkin or other airborne pollen types, but clearly they also accidentally collect other pollens in the environment. Perhaps it just sticks to their bodies while they are out flying (see Jerry Bromenshenk's paper on the collection of Bacillus spores below).

Lighthart, Bruce; Prier, Kevin R. S.; Bromenshenk, Jerry J. (2004) Detection of aerosolized bacterial spores (Bacillus atrophaeus) using free-flying honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) as collectors. Aerobiologia 20 (3-4) : 191-195.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you know if it must be local honey for allergy treatment? I was unable to find a local source for raw honey but did get some from another state (across the country). Do you know if that can still work?