Spring means misery for those with allergies. There’s the sneezing, the scratchy red eyes, the stuffy nose, and the trail of used tissues that alert everyone to your affliction.
Most people with mild symptoms turn to over the counter medications to control the symptoms until the pollen subsides. But for others, the symptoms are so severe that they seek out the care of a doctor and prescribed medications.
Randy Watson, who is the new manager of Food for Less in Cameron Park, says he found a treatment for his allergies that works for him. It’s eating local honey.
“I’ve been eating it for eight months and it’s the best year I’ve had with allergies even though everyone else is having a really bad year,” he said.
Watson said he learned about eating honey from a customer in the store. The woman lives in the foothills and is allergic to pine pollen. Eating locally produced honey helped her.
“I don’t like taking pills,” he said. “I wanted something natural. So I put it on toast or in my tea. I was taking a teaspoon or tablespoon daily during the height of pollen season. But now I just take some every few days.”
Watson said the theory behind this form of self-medication is that local honey acts like a vaccine because the pollen spores picked up by the bees are transferred to the honey and eating the honey builds up a person’s immunity through gradual exposure to the local allergens.
“Local honey is made from pollen in the area and that’s why that kind of honey rather than honey from a different area may give you the best results,” Watson said. “It was an experiment that I just did on myself. This is the best year I’ve had so far for allergies. I’d like to think that the honey had something to do with it.”
While the honey cure worked for Watson, the scientific evidence remains unclear as to whether or not it will help everyone with allergies.
According to Dr. Stanley Fineman, who is the past President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, seasonal allergies are usually triggered by wind-borne pollens, not pollens spread by insects. According to Fineman, it’s unlikely that honey collected from plants that don’t cause allergy symptoms would provide any therapeutic benefit.
Different research studies have also come back with mixed results.
One study done in 2002 by researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center found that eating honey had no effect on allergies. In that study, scientists randomly sorted subjects into three groups. One consumed a tablespoon daily of local honey, another ate commercial honey, and a third were given a corn syrup placebo with synthetic honey flavoring. After tracking the subjects for months, the researchers found that neither honey taking group did any better than the group taking the placebo.
In a different study, published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, the effects of using pre-seasonal birch pollen honey or regular honey was compared with patients using allergy medication. The study concluded that those consuming the birch or regular honey had 60 percent lower total symptoms, twice as many asymptomatic days, 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms, and a 50 percent decrease in the use of antihistamines than those using allergy medication.
However there were no significant differences between those using birch pollen honey and those consuming regular honey except that the former used less antihistamines. While the study sample was small, the authors concluded that “BPH (Birch Pollen Honey) could serve as a complementary therapy for birch pollen allergy.”
Dr. Eric Mussen, who is an entomologist with UC Davis, said “I can’t direct you to any documents that prove eating local honey works, but many many individuals say they eat local honey and don’t have a problem. Others, like myself, eat local honey and it doesn’t make any difference.”
He said that the mixed results from using honey as a treatment is not a black and white matter since even medically approved treatments don’t work for everyone and there are often side effects when taking prescribed medication.
“In short, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that it works but nothing scientific,” Mussen said.
Local honey producers, Dale and Cindy White, agree. While they can’t publicly state that honey helps with allergies, some of their customers swear by it. “One lady gave her son a tablespoon a day on his peanut butter sandwich and he was so much better,” said Cindy. “People come by every year because their allergies are so horrible and for whatever reason, it works.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.