Honey and Allergies: Interview with Dr. Jean Layton, ND
Does eating local honey help reduce pollen allergy symptoms? I’ve come across the idea several times but have never seen scientific studies about it. I decided to call my local naturopathic physician, Dr. Jean Layton, to see if there was any truth to it. As you’ll see, our conversation also ranged to other fascinating topics regarding the relationship between health and locally grown foods.
First, to answer the honey question, we talked about what an allergic reaction actually is. Dr. Layton uses a simple analogy. Inhaling allergens such as pollen or dust, she says, is like inhaling tiny little baseballs. Those baseballs hit cells along the way, some of which may have chemical receptors for them. Receptors move the baseballs into the cell where they are evaluated. If they are “good” baseballs (beneficial or harmless) the body deals with them easily and there is no allergic reaction. If they are “bad” baseballs (substances not good for us or substances to which we are sensitive), our immune system is called into action. Mast cells rupture, releasing histamine into our system. Histamine is what causes the inflammation and swelling of breathing passages in an allergic reaction.
When we eat local honey, we are ingesting very small amounts of pollen particles picked up by bees while gathering nectar from flowers. If bees have gathered from local flowers, the honey will contain local pollens. Introducing minute amounts of an allergen over time allows the body to build up resistance, says Dr. Layton, much like introducing a new food to a baby gradually. The trick to getting good results, she says, is to use honey from the previous year when the flowers last bloomed. Right now, if you ask local honey vendors, you should be able to get honey made last year. Also be sure the bees were feeding on local wildflowers and trees. If you eat one quarter teaspoon of honey daily, your body will have a chance to prepare for the pollen before the flowers bloom this year. “If people have lots of symptoms,” she says, “then I tell them to use honey in nettle tea. Nettles also assist the mast cells to be stable.”
Honey may not prevent all pollen allergy symptoms, but she says there’s a good record of symptoms being substantially reduced. Dr. Layton says she has so far never encountered anyone who is allergic to honey.
Allergic reactions in general can range from mild (sniffles or sneezing) to life threatening (such as anaphylactic shock caused by peanuts or a bee sting). Severe allergic reactions are usually in response to the second exposure of the offending substance, Dr. Layton says–the second bee sting, or the second eating of peanuts. Sensitivity is created by the first exposure, and the reaction is fully expressed on the second exposure. In other words, if you’ve been stung by a bee only once, don’t assume you won’t have a reaction to a second sting.
Dr. Layton had several points to make about local foods and health. “First,” she said, “keep in mind that a carrot is a carrot, regardless of where it is grown.” The genetic possibilities of a seed are basically the same whether grown in California or Washington. However, nutritional value can vary in several ways. Local food is more likely to have been allowed to fully ripen before being picked, which increases nutritional value significantly. Also, the nutritional value of most food degrades over time from when it’s harvested. Local foods bought at local farmers markets have often been harvested that very day, or within 24 hours at most. Foods grown elsewhere have been harvested long before they are purchased, and some may have been in cold storage for months before consumers take them home.
Dr. Layton also made the point, though, that just because a food is grown locally doesn’t mean it’s more nutritious. The minerals available in soil vary from region to region, even from farm to farm within our own county. If farmers regularly test their soil and add mineral amendments as needed, maximum nutrition can be obtained. From a consumer’s standpoint, though, an easy way to ensure maximum nutrition is to buy your food from several different farms in different parts of the county, instead of from only one. That way any nutritional variations will likely average out.
Finally, Dr. Layton strongly recommends buying certified organic food. Besides avoiding toxic chemical exposure (herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals) associated with increased incidences of cancer and other diseases, certified organic food legally cannot contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Even eating organically doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid GMOs, however. For example, animals raised to produce organic meat cannot be given feed known to contain GMOs. In this country, though, it’s not always possible for farmers to know. Labeling is not required. Nevertheless, eating organically will at least minimize your GMO risk.
Dr. Layton is also known as the “Gluten-Free Doctor” and is co-author of Gluten-Free Baking for Dummies. Besides the health clinic she owns with her acupuncturist husband, Ed Layton (HamsterPuncture), she also writes gluten-free health and recipe blogs, teaches classes, and is an active participant in the Bellingham community.
If you think you might have food sensitivities, or if you just want to feel better, Dr. Layton will start her next seven-week “Detox – Eliminate the Negatives” class to help you find out on June 5th. Click here for more details.
Here are a few wonderful ways to enjoy honey!
- Honey Lavender Pound Cake
- Honey Egg Custard
- Jalapeno Honey Plum Jam
- Blueberry Refrigerator Jam (uses honey for sweetening)