But while honey has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine and is touted for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties, it’s not proven to help with everything. In fact, it’s not proven that honey can treat allergy symptoms.
In this article, I’ll explain why people think honey can help with allergies, what the research says, and if honey may trigger allergies. Then I’ll discuss the health benefits of honey and home remedies to treat allergies. Lastly, I’ll share when to see a doctor about allergies.
Can Honey Help Relieve Allergy Symptoms?
There is no conclusive scientific proof that honey can treat allergies. While some studies show that consuming honey daily can help improve symptoms related to allergies, other evidence shows that ingesting honey makes no noticeable difference compared to taking a placebo.
Additionally, all of the major studies in this area have used small sample sizes, making it difficult to evaluate their outcomes.
A 2020 review of studies on the potential use of honey for allergic diseases concluded that some studies show that honey is an effective anti-allergic agent, but there are still gaps in the research.
More clinical studies are needed to prove that honey is effective over placebo and to determine how honey works as an anti-allergic agent.
Health risks of unprocessed honey
Though many people tout the health benefits of raw, unprocessed honey, there are also a few potentially serious side effects to consider before consuming it, especially in large doses. Unprocessed honey has not been pasteurized, meaning it has not been sterilized by heat treatment.
The honey may therefore contain pollen, spores, bacteria, and bee parts that get removed through the pasteurization process. And some of these can make people sick. For example, unprocessed honey can be a source of botulism spores, which can cause food poisoning in adults.
If you get food poisoning from botulism, you may experience common symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps, and these can become severe if left untreated.
In babies, botulism can be life-threatening, as their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Because of this, babies under the age of 1 should not be given honey of any kind.
Raw honey can also cause intoxication if made using the nectar of flowers from the ericaceae family, which includes several common garden plants. The nectar from these flowers has been found to contain a substance called grayanotoxin, which is toxic to the nervous system. Intoxication side effects as a result of grayanotoxin include sweating, dizziness, nausea, weakness, and vomiting. (Grayanotoxins are normally killed during the pasteurization process, so regular honey is not a concern for this.)
Does Honey Trigger Allergies?
Although most bee pollen is removed from honey during the pasteurization process, trace amounts can remain. People who are allergic to pollen may therefore experience an allergic reaction while eating raw or processed honey. Symptoms are typically mild, but anaphylaxis can occur depending on the severity of the allergy and the amount of the allergen in the honey.
Health Benefits of Honey
Allergies aside, many studies suggest that honey may have other health benefits, such as the following.
Treating upper respiratory tract infections (URI)
Honey has been used in traditional medicine to treat URIs due to its antimicrobial properties. University of Oxford researchers analyzed 14 studies and found that honey was superior to usual care for URIs when it came to improving symptoms like cough and throat pain.
Fighting metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a group of diseases that includes obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
A 2018 review concluded that consuming honey may lower blood sugar levels, prevent excessive weight gain, enhance insulin sensitivity, and improve lipid metabolism, all of which help fight the condition.
Combat artery hardening
A 2019 review concluded that choosing honey over other types of sugars may prevent artery hardening (atherosclerosis). Researchers credit the enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and phenolic compounds in honey for this benefit.
Supporting your gut
Scientific research has shown that certain types of honey—specifically Manuka honey—may help support the gut microbiome. This is because honey contains a type of sugar called oligosaccharide, which can increase the proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Also, because honey is high in antioxidants, it may help treat gut-related conditions like gastric ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. More research on humans is necessary to confirm this, though.
According to a 2012 review, key vitamins found in honey include ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin, while key minerals include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
However, other foods are richer sources of these nutrients.
How to Find Relief from Allergy Symptoms
While healthcare providers may choose to prescribe allergy medications or allergy shots to help with allergies, some natural remedies may help alleviate symptoms.
- Using air filters to remove airborne allergens such as dust, pollen, and pet dander
- Taking probiotics
- Using essential oils such as peppermint, frankincense, and eucalyptus
- Doing saline nasal irrigation
- Showering at night to remove allergens on your skin and hair
- Washing clothes and bed linens frequently
- Avoiding allergy triggers
When to See a Healthcare Provider for Allergies
See an allergy specialist if you experience one or more of the following:
- Hay fever or other allergy symptoms several months of the year
- Chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion, or difficulty breathing as a result of your allergies
- Symptoms of serious asthma (such as frequent tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, and wheezing)
- Symptoms that interfere with your ability to participate in regular activities or decrease your quality of life
- Antihistamines and other allergy medications cannot control your symptoms or cause concerning side effects
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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