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Can you be allergic to honey?

The Jewish New Year, which is fast approaching is synonymous with the delicious, sticky and very sweet honey. Children come home from school singing songs about honey, cards are sent around with images of honey, honey cake and cookies are made in homes and most importantly a significant part of the holiday's dinner which revolves around dipping a piece of apple in honey. Honey signifies sweetness- the hope that the future year is filled with experiences that are pleasant and joyful.

honey allergy

There are approximately 320 varieties of honey which vary in colour and flavour. Honey is made by honeybees using nectar from flowering plants and is a natural sweetener and although consist mostly of sugar; it also contains amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants. It is commonly used as a natural healing treatment for coughs, burns and wound healing. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial agent.

The BIG question- can a person be allergic to honey?

Allergy to honey is rare and although the exact figures in the general population are as of yet unknown- it is estimated to be less than 0.001%. But a quick search online will generate hundreds of people who state they have a severe allergy to honey.

So what’s going on, are the doctors wrong, uninformed- or are people running away with their wild imagination?

During the production process of honey by honeybees, it can possibly become contaminated with bee pollen and pollen from other plants and trees. Therefore if a person is allergic to pollen they may have an allergic reaction to some types of honey, although it may be hard to pinpoint which brands of honey are contaminated. In many cases, it is actually the pollen that is the cause of the allergic reaction, rather than the honey itself. For people who have sensitivities to pollen, doctors advise they use extreme caution, not only when consuming honey, but any other bee products- all of which could possibly contain their allergen.

Other possible allergens in natural honey are:

  • Buckwheat
  • Tulips
  • Sunflowers
  • Eucalyptus
  • Willow
  • Oak
  • Hackberry
  • Other plants in the area

Recent production trends

Since the late 1990s beekeepers worldwide have reporter the phenomenon of bees disappearing as well as the decline of honeybee colonies. This has resulted in honey production reduction of 49% during the last 20 years.

Due to the drastic supply shortage of honey, many companies have adopted the practice of adding other ingredients into their product in order to increase their production quantities. Some of the ingredients include maple syrup and corn syrup as well as other additives and with companies failing to properly label their products consumers are having allergic reactions to the additional unnamed ingredients.

This practice has been taking-up increasingly more space in the spotlight with American and Chinese companies both leaning heavily towards these procedures. Just last September in Australia official reports came to light into just how rampant ‘fake honey’ was across Australia with reports showing that up to 50% of honey was adulterated. Read more about it here: Fake honey scandal widens to Australian-sourced brands

Hidden Honey

Honey may be present in hidden forms in other products as well. These include:

  • Chocolate bars
  • Candies
  • Cakes
  • Gingerbread
  • Cereals

Honey as a treatment for seasonal allergies

An increasingly common trend among people who suffer from seasonal allergies is to use raw, locally produced honey as a form of treatment for their allergy symptoms. This practice is based on the theory that eating small amounts of honey daily helps build the bodies immunity through gradual exposure as bees transfer small amounts of pollen into the honey, the same pollen spores that are the cause of the symptoms these people suffer from.

Dr Julie Glass, a naturopathic doctor from Oregon further explains this procedure; "It's the same principle as allergy shots, where patients are given very small amounts of the substance they're allergic to. Over time, the immune system will recognize the offender so it doesn't launch an attack. The theory is that eating the honey with those spores can desensitize the immune system."

There has been some evidence indicating that using honey prior to allergy seasons can act as a preventative measure to compress the symptoms. Two recent, relatively small studies, which produced slightly different results, proved that although using honey in a medically capacity won’t be effective as a treatment with regards to food allergies, it possibly could help with seasonal allergies.

It is important to bear in mind that although honey is a natural substance, when using it medicinally it is used in larger doses and a health care provider must be consulted prior to giving a child honey medically or using it in that capacity for personal use. In addition, honey can cause a range of allergic reactions for patients with seasonal allergies or allergies to bee stings.

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Food Allergy Concierge would like to wish all our customer and everyone in the allergy community a safe, joyful and sweet year. We look forward to serving you.

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During our recent visit to Israel, we really struggled to find food for our son who has anaphylactic level allergies to egg and sesame. We approached both restaurants and hotels and were told they were unable or unwilling to take responsibility for preparing his food.

 After learning about Dr. Eliana on-line, we contacted her in the hopes that she could provide a ‘normal’ restaurant experience for our family.

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