You are here

Can Bee Pollen Beat Allergies?

+ enlarge

As I write this, seasonal allergies are kicking my ass. It’s hard to see my computer screen through my red, runny eyes and congested haze. But as with the common cold, there are very few solutions for those of us (approximately fifty million Americans) who consider spring pollen so much powdered agony. Antihistamines make me drowsy or give me headaches, while corticosteroids sport a host of scary side effects. Desperately, I and many others interested in natural remedies are looking to bee pollen for help with our allergies.

A Taste of Honey
Bee pollen is actually flower-pollen granules that stick to bees’ legs and bodies as they extract nectar from flowers. When the bees reenter the hive, those granules are collected. The granules are then sold as a powder or end up in honey and increasingly are being touted as a homeopathic remedy for allergies.

Homeopathy is based on the “law of similars,” or the idea of letting “like be cured by like.” Because allergic reactions occur when the body detects a foreign substance as hostile, the idea is to introduce small amounts of the substance so that the immune system no longer sees it as a threat. That means no antibodies, no histamines, and no running out of tissues and having to wipe your drippy nose on your sleeve (not that I do that).

In other words, a little bit of pollen (or a taste of honey) may be the cure for your allergy woes.

Not Quite the Bee’s Knees
The idea that bee pollen will desensitize the body to seasonal allergies is a logical one, but unfortunately not one with any scientific basis. According to the New York Times, researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center who followed three groups of allergy sufferers—those who ate local honey daily, those who ate commercial honey daily, and those who ate a corn syrup placebo—found that neither local nor commercial honey eaters have a better time with the sniffles than non-honey eaters. Dr. Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, told the Times, “Seasonal allergies are usually triggered by windborne pollens, not by pollens spread by insects,” so it’s unlikely that honey or bee pollen “would provide any therapeutic benefit.”

Bee pollen can also evoke serious, even fatal, allergic reactions in the very sensitive. Anaphylaxis, asthma, hives, and gastrointestinal reactions are all possible side effects of bee pollen, which means those who have a history of severe allergies should avoid it. For these individuals, the substance does far more harm than good.

OTC After All
For help with seasonal allergies, you’re far better off trying to avoid allergens (yeah, right) and taking an over-the-counter antihistamine when you need it than trying to “cure” your sensitivities with bee pollen. Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend staying indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are high and taking allergy medication before symptoms start so the histamine doesn’t have time to accumulate. Still, like the rest of us, you’ll be counting the calendar days until spring is over and you can breathe again. Maybe one day we’ll find the miracle cure for allergies, but for now, don’t look to the bees for help.


Loading comments...