Bee Pollen for Allergies
Honey is probably the oldest and most popular remedy for treating seasonal allergies. Bee pollen works even better, but not for the reasons most people think.
If you really don't want to read what I have to write about how and why bee pollen helps you get over seasonal hay fever, that is fine, just know that it works and buy a bottle of bee pollen right now. But if you would like to understand why I recommend bee pollen for seasonal allergy sufferers, please let me explain a little more.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies
There was a time when almost no one got allergies. The authority figures in my own young life grandparents, older aunts and uncles, and respected people in the community, were mostly born in the 1870's, 1880's, and 1890's.
In their young lives in the nineteenth century, allergies and asthma were unheard of. They were something the doctor might have read about in a medical school textbook but probably had never seen. By the time I came along in the 1950's, kids were getting wheezies and sneezies during hay cutting season, and the elders were convinced we were just trying to shirk work.
What had changed was the the kind of flour people used for most of their baking. In the nineteenth century, people carried sacks of their own grain to the miller. This continued even until the1960's, where I lived. The flour they got back was filled with rock particles, dust, and ground-up bugs, but it contained all the antioxidant nutrition of the grain. In the twentieth century, we started getting white flour (which had been considered a luxury) with added vitamins but subtracted plant nutrition. Even farm families started having allergies when they started buying bread from the store and using white flour.
I grew up on a farm where my family raised sorghum, cattle, hay, and corn. I had severe allergies to sorghum, cattle dander, hay, cotton blossoms, and corn. That combination of (real) allergies put me high on the suspected shirkers list.
My mother also had severe allergies to corn (which we stopped growing because she was allergic to it), cantaloupes (which we grew anyway because she really liked them), and to the only kind of grain we could grow on the 1,000 acres (400 ha) we farmed during hot Texas summers, sorghum.
Texans call this crop maize, but it's totally different from the crop called maize in the rest of the world. It's red. The grain is a collection of seeds that appears in something that looks a little like a broom on top of the plant. The dust from the seeds makes you feel itchy and scratchy. It's a plant that likes temperatures of about 105° F/40° C to ripen and dry, and it was often that hot when we harvested it.
Maize made me asthmatic, although it did not bother my brother at all. He ran the tractors and combines. I just knew how to turn over the ignition and put the machine in gear and drive from place to place in an emergency.
Before I get too far into my story, I want to list how family illustrates some important principles of seasonal allergies:
- Food and pollen allergies both cause symptoms. Blooming plants that you also eat pack a double whammy of allergy triggers.
- The tendency for allergies is genetic but not everyone in the same family will necessarily get them.
- A little pollen may make you wheeze and sneeze, but a super-dose of pollen will make you itchy and scratchy.
That's also true of certain foods, most commonly tomatoes, shellfish, milk, soy, chocolate, and wheat. If you happen to have grown up in the middle of 1,000 acres of sorghum fields, sorghum may cause allergies, too. You don't get allergies to substances you haven't been exposed to.
We Tried the Honey Cure
One blisteringly hot summer day when I was eight years old and my brother was just four, my mother decided she would mow the lawn. This was the first time we had ever raise cantaloupes in our garden, and my mother had harvested the very first one earlier that day.
My mother came in and to refresh herself she took out the cantaloupe she had had cooling in the icebox. She ate half the cantaloupe. Then she ate the other half of the cantaloupe. Then she discovered that she had a potentially deadly allergy to cantaloupes.
Her eyes swelled shut. Her lips bulged out. She was having trouble breathing. I got the phone and tried to explain the situation to the operator. She hung up on me.
I didn't have a way of calling for an ambulance. This was before rural areas had quick ambulance service. I ran out into the yard and tried to flag down passing cars. Only two or three came out as far as house in a whole day. No one came.
Then my father came in early, intending to take us to the lake for a surprise picnic. He saw what had happened, rushed my mother 20 miles (32 km) to the nearest hospital, and her life was saved with likely just moments to spare. She was in the hospital for about a week.
That's when our family got serious about treating allergies.
As I mention elsewhere on this site, my family had a tenant who paid his rent in honey. My mother got the idea that eating honey might cure our allergies. Our tenant brings over 50 pounds (22 kilos or so) of freshly collected honey to pay his annual rent.
My mother decided this would be our allergy cure. This was before even Benadryl was on the market.
We ate honey, and we ate honey, and we ate some more. During that time everyone in the family was very physically active, and the adults ate about 5,000 calories a day. I would guess that 500 calories a day, at least for that year, were from honey (and 2,000 calories from the biscuits we put it on). My mother and I didn't have allergies for months. Then the honey ran out and the allergies came back. What had happened?
My mother thought that because our tenant sterilized the honey before he brought it to us (kindly sparing us the experience of botulism), that he had killed the pollen inside and that's why our allergies came back. It's more likely that our allergies came back because we stopped eating the honey.
How Honey Treats Allergies
Honey contains a natural antihistamine. It's a great source of the antioxidant quercetin.
What quercetin does is to stop the an enzyme called hyalouronidase from releasing histamine in the linings of your throat and nose. Cells in the upper respiratory tract store histamine in case you breathe in something toxic. The immune system sends out neutrophils that signal the cells to burst open these tiny containers of histamine to cause sneezing and wheezing and production of fluids to get the potentially toxic airborne inhalant out of your body. It's a very useful thing to have if you don't have allergies.
If you do have allergies, which is the immune system's over-reaction to an otherwise harmless substance, this only causes you grief. As few as a dozen grains of pollen landing in your nose can trigger your immune system to break out the emergency histamine. Quercetin acts as an anti-histamine to keep the allergy symptoms from happening. Honey provides quercetin, and when you eat honey on a regular basis, your allergy symptoms are not as severe.
You may have heard that honey acts something like an allergy shot. Not really. The action is only from the quercetin. Your immune system does not react to the specific pollens in honey, and whether you eat local honey or imported honey does not make a difference in whether you get over allergies. You'll get improvement either way.
But bee pollen is better than preventing allergies than honey. There are two important reasons why.
Why It's Even Better to Use Bee Pollen for Allergies
Honey helps allergies because it provides quercetin. Bee pollen is even better for allergies because it concentrates quercetin.
If you want reliable anti-allergy relief, just start taking bee pollen about a month before your worst allergy season starts. Continue taking bee pollen every day until your allergy season ends. If you know you have food allergies, then take bee pollen all year round.
Of course, you can get the same results from eating honey. Lots and lots of honey. We got the best results from about 1/4 pound (110 grams) a day.
That's about 500 calories a day, not counting anything you pour the honey into or spread the honey on. You might get good results from less honey, or you could just eat grapefruit and onions. Lots and lots of grapefruit and onions. They are a great source of quercetin, too.
I like honey but I enjoy it as a food rather than taking it as a medicine. You can get all the benefits of quercetin with only a tiny fraction of the calories by taking 3 capsules a day on an empty stomach.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bee Pollen for Allergies
Q. I'm allergic to bees. Am I allergic to bee pollen?
A. Probably not. If you are allergic to bees, you are probably only allergic to the venom in the sting, not "bee dander." (Bees have dander like dogs and cats.) But bee pollen is collected from plants by bees. It's not actually from a bee.
Q. If you are allergic to pollen how can taking pollen help you?
A. If you are allergic to pollen, you are probably not allergic to the specific pollens used in the supplement. And even if you are, if you take bee pollen capsules, they will never come in contact with your throat. When your digestive tract breaks down the pollen into its constituent nutrients, it's the nutrients, not the whole pollen, that circulate through your bloodstream to your nose and throat and protect you from allergy symptoms.
Q. Does bee pollen make me immune to allergies?
A. That is what scientists used to think, but that has been proven wrong. What bee pollen does is to reduce the symptoms of allergies, but it only works for you as long as you keep taking it.