The honey bee uses the most complex symbolic language of any animal on earth outside of the primate family.

Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies?

By Daniel More, MD 
Updated March 05, 2010

Question: Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies? 

Answer: It is a popular notion that eating honey is a natural remedy for symptoms of allergies and asthma. Honey contains various ingredients, including pollen allergens and components of honey bees. In fact, bee pollen—available without a prescription and at most health food stores—is also commonly marketed as a natural allergy remedy and an anti-inflammatory agent. Other names for commercially available bee pollen include royal jelly or propolis. 

Locally produced honey, which supposedly contains local plant pollens to which a person would be allergic, is the preferred type of honey for allergies. It makes sense that consuming honey that contains pollen to which a person is allergic would improve allergies, much like how sublingual immunotherapy works. And, the fact that many people have experienced anaphylaxis from eating honey means that there may be enough pollen to stimulate the immune system. 

However, to prove that a therapy works, it must be compared to placebo. There is only one well-designed study comparing two different types of honey (locally produced and nationally produced) against placebo in people with pollen allergy. Unfortunately, there was no difference in allergy symptoms among the three groups of study participants. It was interesting, however, that nearly 1 in 3 of the volunteers dropped out of the study because they couldn’t tolerate eating one tablespoon of honey every day due to the overly sweet taste. More studies are needed to further investigate the possible benefits of honey for the treatment of allergies. 

So, while consuming local honey for your allergies may sound like a good idea, and many would even argue that it can’t hurt, no well-designed study that I’m aware of shows that it actually does work. In fact, some very sensitive people could experience life-threatening allergic reactions as a result of eating locally produced honey due to the pollen and venom protein content. I don’t doubt that some people actually do get benefit for their allergies as a result of eating honey, but for most people this is probably no more than a placebo effect.

Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis

National Honey Board—Local Honey & Allergies

Will eating local honey help with my allergies? 

There are anecdotal stories of people claiming relief from allergies by eating local honey, but there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. This subject is somewhat controversial, since some experts claim that the kinds of pollens that are the greatest cause of allergies are smaller windblown pollens that are not typically found in honey.

This topic is also covered on the website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Other sources of information about pollen allergy include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

National Honey Board: Honey is Made from Nectar, Not Pollen

by  Bruce Boynton | Apr 23, 2012

In the last several months various stories have resulted in misunderstanding and confusion about honey and honey filtration, leading some readers to believe that any honey without pollen is not real honey.

This is not true. Honey without pollen is still honey nutritionally and in flavor, and that is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies it as such.  This misunderstanding has also led to several class action lawsuits regarding purchases of honey without pollen.

The truth is that honey is made by honey bees from nectar of flowers and plants, not pollen.  Pollen grains may end up in the exposed honey in the hive through any number of incidental or accidental ways, but it is not used by honey bees to make honey. 

Consumers have varying opinions about their choice of honey type, flavor and origin.  There are many different kinds of honey available in the U.S. market, such as honey in the comb, liquid honey that is considered "raw," creamed honey, as well as organic honey. The majority of honey sold at retail in the U.S. every year, and preferred by most consumers, is the clear, golden liquid honey that has been strained or filtered to remove undesirable particles that make honey cloudy. All honey crystallizes eventually; suspended particles (including pollen) and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization. Filtering pollen and other particles out helps delay crystallization, allowing the honey to remain liquid for a much longer period than honey that has not been filtered.

According to the United States Standards, honey can be filtered to remove fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials found suspended in the honey1. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gives higher grades for honey that has good clarity. Importantly, honey that has been filtered to meet USDA's grading standards may not have pollen, but it is still honey.

News stories have reported on  illegal activities such as circumvention of tariffs on imported honey, and there are claims that some dishonest foreign suppliers may be "ultrafiltering" their honey to clean it up or remove the small amounts of pollen grains, often used as a marker to identify the country of origin. Ultrafiltering is not the same as filtering honey. Somewhere during the telling and retelling of these news stories, the term "ultrafiltered" became misused and confused with more traditional filtration methods used in the U.S. honey industry to produce clear, golden honey. 

Ultrafiltration, a totally different process, is a specific filtration method used in the food industry for pretreatment and purification.   It can filter particles smaller than 1/10 of a micron (a spider web is about 2 microns in diameter). Pollen grains vary in size from about 5 to 200 microns, large enough to be filtered with more common filtration methods.

In contrast to the filtration methods used by many U.S. honey packers to meet USDA grading standards, ultrafiltration is a more complex process that results in a sweetener product. The FDA has said this product should not be labeled as honey, and the National Honey Board supports this position. Some have confused filtration and ultrafiltration, incorrectly applying the FDA's position on ultrafiltered honey to any honey without pollen.

The fact is, honey that has been filtered may not have pollen, but it is still honey by national standards and is preferred by many consumers.  

For more information on honey, I invite readers to visit the National Honey Board's website

1 For decades, many U.S. honey packers have been filtering raw honey prior to bottling in accordance with USDA's United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey (May 23, 1985).  According to section 52-1393 of the Standards , Filtered honey is honey of any type defined in these standards that has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed.  Section 52.1394 of the Standards also says that Pollen grains in suspension contribute to the lack of clarity in filtered style.  

Bruce Boynton is CEO of the National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion board under USDA oversight that conducts research, marketing and promotion programs to help maintain and expand markets for honey and honey products. The National Honey Board is not a regulatory agency nor does it have powers of enforcement. The 10-member board, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, represents producers (beekeepers), packers, importers and a marketing cooperative.

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