The women in my family line have suffered with allergies for as long as I can remember. My maternal grandmother's nose runs like a faucet 24/7-365 days a year. My mother has a chronic cough that is triggered by allergies and since she is allergic to EVERYTHING, she coughs..a lot. And I get it in the form of awful sinus pressure, headaches and a strange "inflamed brain" sensation. Thanks genetics.
So is local, raw and unfiltered honey a cure all for us?
Oh how I wish it were. For the past several years I have used raw unfiltered honey that is harvested for that particular allergy season (spring honey in the spring, fall honey in the fall for those specific allergens, etc...) and I am sad to report that I saw zero improvement in my allergies based on honey alone. Studies with actual people bear this out. For a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2002, scientists gave a jar of honey to each of 36 seasonal-allergy sufferers and asked them to eat one tablespoon a day for 30 weeks (seven and a half months) while keeping a record of their allergy symptoms. Unbeknownst to the participants, a third of them got local unpasteurized and unfiltered honey, another third got a national brand of filtered clover honey, and the control group got a placebo: corn syrup laced with artificial honey flavoring. At the end of the study, neither of the honey groups saw any improvement in their symptoms over the placebo group." (1)
Why doesn't honey work for everyone?
This article explains it really well, "The logic goes like this: During an allergic reaction, your body’s defenses overreact in response to an allergen, causing you to swell and tear up and sneeze. For some, that allergen is pollen. And bees, as we all know, use pollen to make honey. By exposing yourself to a low dose of the very thing you’re allergic to, you’re helping your body develop a tolerance and stop freaking out every time you’re exposed to it. Sweet deal, right?
Except for one thing: That scenario is totally, utterly wrong.
First of all, bees do not make honey from pollen. Bees make honey from nectar. Yes, pollen gets stuck to their legs in the process, which is how they pollinate the next flower they land on. But when it comes to the actual honey-making, pollen is but an “accidental guest” to the party. The amount of pollen in honey is minuscule and not enough to impact the nutrient value”—around 0.1 to 0.4 percent, according to the National Honey Board."(2)
In addition to the above, the vast majority of seasonal allergies are caused by pollen from trees and grasses in the summer and ragweed in the fall. In fact, the entire reason you're plagued by pollen during these seasons is that these trees and grasses are wind pollinators that release their pollen into the air. Bees generally pollinate plants that don't have the right equipment to let the wind do the work. (1)
So do we ditch raw honey all together?
Of course not. Raw honey is still extremely beneficial to your health in so many ways. It is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and it's great for fighting infections. So that raw honey you are consuming is actually really good for you - so keep it up! But if you are paying outrageous prices for a local honey specifically for allergies, you might want to reconsider where you spend your valuable $. If you are a hardcore allergy suffer like I am, and you are allergic to much more than pollen, you will most likely need to have some other allergy treatments in your back pocket. Of course, if you believe local honey is helping your allergies then by all means keep rolling with it! It might be helping you because you believe it is, the placebo effect is a strong and real thing!
What in this allergen polluted world can we do then?
Man, I feel you. The headaches, the fatigue, the sneezing/itchy/watering eyes. It is MISERABLE. I have tried almost everything under the sun to get mine under control. See the unflattering picture below...it's an actual picture of my allergy test results for mold about one second after it was given. What you can't see in the picture is how it felt like my arm was on FIRE and was itching like crazy. The full results? I am allergic to literally everything. I wish I would have taken more pictures because it got much much worse. Dust mites, dogs/cats, trees, grass, mold, pollen...it's not a good diagnosis. And it's probably a huge reason why honey doesn't even begin to touch or handle my allergy symptoms- because I am allergic to WAY more than just pollen (and most people are). I tried allergy shots and antihistamines for a solid year and a half and they didn't help either.
Another real life, unflattering picture of me suffering from a major sinus headache five years ago. At the time I was working in a stuffy building (I literally didn't have an air vent in my office) and my allergies were off the charts. My headaches were constant all day everyday, and I would shut my door- put an ice pack on my head with an ace bandage to hold it in place (I now know they make fancy ice packs specifically for your head) and try to get some work done through the fog. This was me pre-elderberry and all of my other holistic tools. Fun stuff.
What I personally do to beat my allergies, or at least have a better handle on them so I don't walk around looking like the above picture all the time:
Allergy relief is all about reducing the histamine and inflammation load in your body. When you come into contact with something you are allergic to, the immune system releases a chemical called histamine, which triggers the allergic reaction and all of the frustrating symptoms. Below is an in depth break down of the above regimen that I personally use. As always, this is not to be substituted for direct medical advice from your doctor, I am just sharing what personally works for me.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C alone may have beneficial effects on histamine levels by preventing histamine release from cells and by improving the breakdown of histamine. According to a 2018 study on vitamin C in the treatment of allergies, oxidative stress plays a key role in allergic diseases. As vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it may act as a treatment for allergies.The researchers observed that high doses of intravenous vitamin C reduced allergy symptoms.
They also reported that a deficiency in vitamin C might lead to allergy-related diseases. Another study from 2000 suggests taking 2 grams (g) of vitamin C daily to act as an antihistamine. (3)
As always, you can naturally up your intake of vitamin C with the following foods: bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, melon, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, tomatoes and tomato juice, winter squash.
I like this brand because it has bioflavonoids + some quercetin added in.
2. Allergy + C Herbal Tea
This blend is unique and high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and antihistamines. It is caffeine and sugar free and tastes really yummy. Many of the herbs in this blend contain histamine reducing properties and/or high vitamin C content. The rose hips and orange peel provide a high amount of vitamin C.
Nettle is the powerhouse in this blend as far as anti-histamines go. Nettle is rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A/C/K and minerals such as Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. Polyphenols such a paempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins and other flavonoids. Many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body. (4)
All ingredients are certified organic and help to aid histamine and inflammation in the body: Nettle, Goldenrod, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Rose Hips, Elder flowers, Hibiscus, Orange Peel, Lemon Grass, Mullein, Lemon Peel, Astragalus, Rooibos, Ginger, Cinnamon, whole stevia leaf.
I add about 2 tbsp of our elderberry to my allergy tea when allergens are strong because the potential benefits are endless. Our tonic has 12 herbs and roots and many of them act as anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory modulators; specifically the turmeric, ginger, astragalus, and elderflower.
Turmeric is a spice that may prevent the release of histamine from mast cells. Turmeric is well-known as an anti-inflammatory powerhouse for a good reason. Its active ingredient, curcumin, has been linked to reduced symptoms of many inflammation-driven diseases, and could help minimize the swelling and irritation caused by allergic rhinitis. (5b)
Ginger has been used as a natural remedy for a variety of health issues, like nausea and joint pain for thousands of years. It’s also been proven to contain antioxidative, anti-inflammatory phytochemical compounds. Now, experts are exploring how these compounds may be useful for combating seasonal allergies. In a 2016 animal study, ginger suppressed the production of pro-inflammatory proteins in the blood of mice, which led to reduced allergy symptoms. (5b)
Astragalus is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It has many purported health benefits, including immune-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. (5c) Research shows that astragalus also has anti-fatigue effects and can improve endurance, which may be helpful for those who feel run down from seasonal allergies.
Elder flowers are one of the most effective herbs used in Western herbalism for treating hay fever-like symptoms. One of the elder flower’s properties is its role to relieve the inflammatory nature of allergic reactions, soothing and toning mucus membranes in the nose and throat. From an ayurvedic perspective, its actions also dispense the accumulation that takes place in the respiratory system by eliminating toxins from the blood. (5a)
The bioflavinoid found in onions that helps to knock down histamine in our body specifically in relation to watery or itchy eyes, asthma and hay fever. Quercetin is best taken with vitamin C as this improves the antihistamine effect. Quercetin may be effective for allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, cold and flu. Much like vitamin C, quercetin stabilizes the mast cells (specialized immune cells) that cause an allergic reaction, and decreases the release of histamine, which could help decrease allergy symptoms. I personally take 500 to 1,000 mg two or three times per day depending on my symptoms. If you don't want to take another pill quercetin is found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, leaves and seeds. Kale and red onions are common foods containing considerable amounts of quercetin. (5)
5. ProBiota HistaminX
The histamine-friendly species included in this formula are delivered in a delayed release (acid resistant) capsule to ensure that the probiotics are delivered intact to the lower digestive tract. This formula helps to support the body’s microbiome and healthy digestion, and may help support healthy metabolism of ingested histamine.
Unfortunately honey cannot help with the following allergens: mold, dust mites, pet dander, dust, trees, grasses, etc.... and it's questionable if it can actually help with pollen. Bummer, I know.
With fall allergens around the corner it's important to have a fully robust allergy support plan in place. Personally one of my biggest triggers for fall allergens is MOLD. Those leaves that fall off the trees? The decomposing leaves are filled with mold, says Dr. Jeffrey J. Dietrich, a board-certified allergist.
Will we still be taking raw honey? Absolutely, we love it! Plus we use it as an all natural sweetener in our elderberry tonic to avoid using refined sugar. But we don't expect it to be a cure all for our allergies and we have better natural tools at our disposal to keep us sniffle free.