What are Allergies?
An allergy can be defined as a hypersensitive response of the immune system to certain substances that come in contact with the body or enter the body. For example, pollen, any food substance, or venom may cause allergic reactions. The substance that is known to cause an allergy is called an allergen. One can find allergens everywhere, such as in food, the surrounding, and various drinks. Mostly these allergens do not cause any major harm; it usually displays some minor side effects. For example, if you were allergic to any food substance or pollen, then the body’s immune system would react in such a way that the immune system would try to destroy it.
All those beautiful flowers and the deep green grasses that otherwise are so loved now literally make you sick, if you have certain allergies. Winter or spring time are when the trees or plants spread their seeds around. This pollen tends to wreak havoc on the body whenever one takes a breath outside.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have provided an estimated number of around 40 million people alone in US are affected with a seasonal form of allergies. These are very commonly known as hay fever, and the medical term for it is allergic rhinitis. When the body mistakes pollen for a foreign invader, such as fungal spores or dust mites, then it triggers the release of histamine, which is a natural chemical and part of the immune system. Release of histamine leads to inflammation and soft tissue irritation, which adds on to the suffering.
The commonly found allergens are wool, fur, dust mites, and their excreta, skin flakes, or dandruff, as well as the calyx of cockroaches. Foods also cause allergies; these include eggs, dairy products, such as milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and shellfish.
There are some common symptoms one would experience when they come in contact with any allergen:
- Having trouble while breathing
- Runny nose
- Continuous coughing
- Eyes which become itchy and watery
- Sore throat
There are various treatments for allergic reactions, such as over-the-counter medicines. Studies have produced various treatments for seasonal allergies. All of these remedies are available over-the-counter or one can get prescription drugs by checking with the doctor. There are also many counteracting histamines. Such drugs are known as antihistamines and they often seem to work.
However, one cannot run away from the fact that these medicines do come with their own set of side effects. Apart from reducing the impact of an allergy, these medicines also lead to dry nasal cavities, dizziness, and certain other undesirable conditions. Hence, for this reason, people tend to look forward to a natural form of remedy. One such example of natural treatment is local honey, which is known to help the body to fight against seasonal allergies. The local honey is available in raw form and is unprocessed, unlike the branded versions; hence it is said to help with allergies.
Honey for treatment
Without any proper scientific evidence, one is just left with theoretical research about how honey helps in reducing the impact of allergies. The current theory states that honey acts like a vaccination. A vaccine is basically a dummy version of the actual virus or the germ which is injected into the body. This tricks the body into believing that the body has been invaded with a foreign substance, thus triggering the immune system to respond. It then produces antibodies that are designated to fight those foreign substances. Hence, during the actual instance when the body is exposed to the harmful virus or pathogen, the antibodies are all geared up to fight against those germs or virus, thus protecting the body.
Among those suffering from an allergy, there is a popular belief that the honey which is produced locally helps to alleviate the symptoms caused by an allergy. The main idea is that honey acts like a vaccination for those individuals. The bees that jump from one flower to another flower end up getting covered with pollen spores. This then gets transferred to their honey. Eating just a spoonful of that honey every day can help to make the immune system stronger through gradual introduction to the allergens.
The idea that honey can help in preventing the symptoms pertaining to the allergies is simply based on a concept called immunotherapy. This theory would make sense, but there are certain issues concerning this theory. Certain allergists suggest that when you intake a tiny amount of substance of which you are allergic, then it gradually makes you less sensitive to that substance. Slowly over time with larger doses, the body builds up the immune system against the allergen. This is very similar to providing allergy shots.
Intake of raw honey has numerous benefits for the body. It acts as a good antioxidant and also has antibacterial properties, along with anti-fungal and anti-allergic properties. Many individuals who are suffering from seasonal forms of allergies find relief with the consumption of raw honey. However, studies are yet to prove whether or not the intake of raw honey helps to completely reduce the symptoms pertaining to the allergy. However, the practice of consuming local honey has always remain a popular natural remedy for ages.
The main idea of consuming honey is related to vaccinations, wherein the body is all geared up to fight against the actual allergens when they invade the body. This is a process known as immunotherapy. When the spores are introduced in the body through the intake of honey, the body gets accustomed to its presence, and later there is a lesser chance of the immune system reacting to any such allergens in a severe way.
Local honey for allergies
There are certain criteria which have to be met before honey can be effective in treating allergies:
- Raw: The honey should be raw or bought from a farmer directly. Raw honey will contain all the live enzymes that are very much needed to protect the body from the overdose of histamine. One should favor honey made naturally by bees who in their various travels also collect traces of pollen found in the area. One should always prefer raw over processed honey, since processed honey is less likely to contain pollen. Since the processed honey goes through various processes, such as heating, pasteurization, and filtration, it should not be used for allergy prevention.
- Local: The next most important criterion is that it should be made locally. When we say local, it means that it is produced by those bees that are usually within a few miles of where the individual is actually based. It is said that the closer, the better for allergy prevention. There isn’t a magic number that says that you must purchase the honey within a number of miles. Any honey that is raw and harvested nearby where similar sorts of plants bloom approximately at the same time can be deemed local. If there are no bee farms in the nearby area, then one can get sample honey from some other place. You can visit the local farmers market or some natural food stores to source naturally found honey. Also, search online for some local bee farms. If you are aware of which type of pollen has triggered your allergy, then you can research and find that farm’s location to ensure that the same type of plant grows there. If one is still unsure of which pollen has triggered the allergy, then reach out to any bee farm nearest to your home so that you are sure that the environment is similar to your typical environment.
- Allergen appropriate: This is very much important, since if you have allergies during the winter, then you need to use honey that was harvested in the winter. However, if you find local honey that was harvested in spring, then you will no doubt enjoy the honey and get some health benefits; however, it would not help you against the allergen, because the pollen to which you are allergic would be missing from the honey.
- Consume small doses: To strengthen the body’s tolerance to the allergen, one should consume small doses of honey each day. This would help the body to condition itself. You can consume one tablespoon each day, and avoid taking more than this dose, since you may end up consuming more pollen than the body’s immune system can handle at the present duration. Honey can be consumed in various forms, such as consuming a tablespoon directly each day or applying the honey directly to food, such as a spread on bread or toast. Avoid using honey as part of cooking or baking, since the heat can destroy the pollen present in the honey, thus making it ineffective. You can add honey to certain warm beverages, such as tea or warm water. These beverages have a temperature that is unlikely to effect and destroy the pollen.
- Better to start early: Do not wait for the pollen season to arrive to start this honey regimen. The body needs some time to strengthen against the allergens. The tolerance level of the body increases gradually; hence, the body needs time to condition the immune system. Start the honey treatment as early as possible; this would give the body enough time to adjust to the daily exposure, and thus by the time the season arrives, the immune system would be able to tackle the allergens, thus reducing the impact of allergies.
For local honey, expect more than just honey; the local unprocessed honey can have some serious health risks, such as bacteria, bee parts, and mold or spores. While preparing the commercial honey, these items are removed. It is said, though it is rare, that eating local honey can lead to some serious allergic reactions. The side effects could include hives, itching on the body, and swelling of the mouth, skin, or throat. Often the culprit in such cases can be the pollen or the parts of a bee that are left behind in the local honey. If a certain person is allergic to bees, then it is possible that the honey that is unprocessed could contain bee venom, leading to severe forms of reaction. The following should be kept in mind:
- Take in limits: One should understand that there are no conclusive studies yet on the local honey treating allergies. Some have mentioned that local honey has shown certain positive minor changes to those suffering from allergies, whereas in some cases individuals have found no difference in the improvement of the symptoms. Hence, always keep the allergy medication in handy in case the honey does not prove to be effective.
- Not for small children: Honey, whether raw or processed, should not be given to infants, since it contains harmful toxins that can lead to botulism in small babies and can tend to become severe and life-threatening. Reach out to the doctor immediately if a child is experiencing any of the following symptoms: no strong expressions, loss of appetite, constipation, muscle weakness due to loss of appetite, and being floppy.
- Local honey can cause allergies: One should be aware of the fact that in addition to allergens such as bee venom, a bee's body parts can also contain certain concentrated amounts of the same pollen of which the individual is allergic. In local honey, there is no way one can control or distribute the pollen amount. If one is very sensitive to allergic reactions from even fine traces of pollen, then those individuals should not consume raw honey as a remedy. Discontinue the use of raw honey the moment you experience symptoms, such as hives, swelling, and itching on the skin or mouth.