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Health Answers

Does eating 'local honey' help prevent allergies?

(Mike Groll/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Judy Foreman
June 23, 2008

It's an intriguing idea, but even a staunch advocate of honey for this use acknowledges that there's virtually no published, scientific evidence to support his view.

Tom Ogren, a California horticulturalist and botanist (tloallergyfree@earthlink.net) who advocates local honey (meaning honey harvested within a few miles of where you live), said that bees in any given area "will visit all the flowers that produce pollen" in that area and that this honey will therefore contain pollen from the plants you frequently encounter and may be allergic to.

"If you take small amounts daily, it's like getting allergy shots" because you may become desensitized to the pollens, he said. "I hear from people who are crazy about the results they get" from this, he added.

But as for real data? Zilch. "You can't get a big bee company to do research because it [the honey] has to be local," he said. Ogren acknowledged that any pollen in local honey could also trigger the very allergies a person is hoping to ward off.

Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergist and immunologist at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, said that while "there are no controlled studies of a clinical effect" of local honey to combat allergies, "I do believe there is something to it." There have been reports in the medical literature of people who have gotten contact dermatitis from eating honey that came from bees that had pollinated nearby poison ivy plants. "This is exactly the point. You can get positive and negative effects.

"However, the plural of anecdote is anecdotes - not evidence," he said.

All of which is not to say that honey is without potential medical benefits. It does have small antimicrobial effects when put on the skin, said Bielory, as well as natural substances that prevent mold growth. After all, sugar and water left out on the counter will eventually get moldy, but honey won't.

And it's great for coughs. Honey has been shown to be "safer and more effective than cough medicines for calming cough in young children," said Dr. Frank Twarog, an allergist and clinical professor at Harvard Medical School.

JUDY FOREMAN

E-mail health questions to foreman@globe.com.

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