Could eating bee pollen help with your seasonal allergies?
🐝🌻 Seasonal allergies have been on the rise! These kind of allergies are airborne and come during the seasons when certain plants & pollen are abundant. In clinic, most people will report spring, summer and fall as their worst time of the year.
There are countless interventions that can be supportive for people suffering with allergies. The first go-to’s I use for patients with allergies include specific bioflavonoids, antioxidants and improving their levels of certain vitamins. Interestingly, there is also information linking your hormones to severity of allergies - read about it here.
For the sake of this post, let’s talk about bee pollen consumption.
You can purchase bee pollen at many health food stores or apiaries local to your area and consume it with smoothies or sprinkled on your food. For years patients would ask me if eating bee pollen local to their area would help with their allergies. But how exactly would that work?
Bee pollen is collected from bees as they travel from plant to plant and bring pollen to their hive. Pollen is the food of the hive. Bee pollen a mix of honey, nectar, bee secretions (yes you read that right!) and enzymes.
The purported ‘pharmacological’ activity comes from the pollen’s fatty acids, phospholipids, flavonoids & phenolic compounds (ie. the antioxidants) that claim to sensitize the immune system to seasonal allergies. Sensitizing the immune system means that bee pollen would “prep” or help your immune system generate a tolerance to the pollen that’s local to your area, so that you don’t get an allergic histamine response when allergy season is in full bloom.
What is histamine?
In simple terms, histamine is a chemical messenger produced when your immune system reacts to something in the environment. You could eat something, breathe something or touch something that your immune system doesn’t like and histamine comes in to create inflammation. Inflammation in the case of allergies can consist of a runny nose, sneezing, headaches, stuffiness, swelling, itching, etc.
Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl brings DOWN that histamine response so you don’t get those troubling symptoms but it doesn’t “fix” the reason why your immune system is reacting. Bee pollen claims to also reduce the histamine response and it *MAY* be effective for respiratory conditions like asthma, sinusitis and allergies.
H O W E V E R….
I was underwhelmed by the lack of evidence to support these claims. It’s not to say that consuming bee pollen is necessarily a bad thing (it has many nutritional benefits), but there weren’t very many strong studies to support the claim that it helps with allergies. I actually found more studies cautioning harm in people consuming bee pollen who have anaphylactic allergies to pollen, dander and bees. Please always talk to your own healthcare team about whether this is a good intervention for you or your family! Many of the studies showed anaphylactic harm after bee pollen consumption, especially in kids. And children under age 1 should never consume or use any bee products.
With that said, I did come across a few studies supporting the improvement of allergic symptoms in individuals with seasonal allergies. These studies were small but the benefits are worth mentioning as areas to further investigate.
A randomized controlled pilot study showed that:
‘During birch pollen season in 2009, patients with an allergy to birch pollen who consumed birch pollen honey reported a 60% decrease in their symptoms and 70% less days with severe allergy symptoms. Compared to the control group, these patients also used 50% less antihistamines.’
I truly think this would be such an interesting topic to get a research team to investigate further! With seasonal allergies on the rise, there needs to be more firm scientific evidence to support the claim that bee pollen can decrease the severity of seasonal allergies.
There is an immunological difference between airborne allergies and CONSUMED FOOD ALLERGIES. Immunology is complex. Some people think that touching a food item helps to sensitize their digestive immune system to tolerate that food. What we know is that the immune system on your skin, in your respiratory tract and in your digestive tract are different. Research shows that inhaled pollen allergies will generate a different immunological response than ingested allergies. So if you breathe in pollen and have allergies, you might not be sensitive to consuming the pollen in food form.
Aside from allergies, why would someone consume bee pollen?
Bee pollen is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants! So even if there is no allergy benefit, some people enjoy consuming it as a nutrient dense food.
Do you consume bee pollen? Did it help with your seasonal allergies? Research is always expanding in this area and I’m looking forward to seeing where the trend goes for allergy prevention.
*NOTE: This is not meant to render or replace medical advice given by your primary care providers. Please discuss the safety & efficacy of any new intervention with your own ND, MD or other healthcare provider.