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Dear Mark: Raw Honey and Allergies, and Resveratrol Debunked?

Posted Jan 23 2012 11:00am

honeyToday’s question and answer post is a quick one – a two parter. First, I discuss the anti-allergy merits of real, raw, unprocessed local honey and include my own harrowing experience with using raw honey to combat a pollen allergy. Then, I address the fall-from-grace of a prolific resveratrol researcher shown to have fabricated his data, and I discuss what it means for resveratrol research at large.

As a side business, I sell local, raw, unpasteurized honey. I would love to see a Daily Apple column on honey and honey production (local vs large-scale (esp. from China), natural hive treatment vs antibiotic use on hives, filtering, non-homogenized vs homogenized, etc.). I often have people who are reluctant to buy my honey because it crystallizes and is cloudy.  These are natural processes and desirable characteristics as the pollen and propolis are left in the honey.  Once explained, many people are quite happy to buy the product.

I know you have written about honey throughout the site, especially as it relates to insulin but I would love to see people have a little more knowledge as to the benefits of local, raw honey for allergy relief, antibacterial properties and just great taste.  :-)

All the best,

Anita

I don’t eat honey very often, but when I do, I prefer crystallized, cloudy honey. I’d definitely be a happy customer of yours.

As for the merits of honey itself, I think it deserves its own post sometime in the future. Honey and humans share a long and storied history together, and it isn’t “ just sugar .” Right now, though, I’ll discuss the question of raw honey and allergies .

There’s very little formal research on the subject. Last year, Finnish researchers found that eating preseasonal (taken before hay fever season commences) birch pollen honey reduced birch pollen allergy symptoms and resulted in less usage of antihistamines when compared to eating preseasonal regular honey. And then there’s this German study from 1956 that has no abstract, but the title is quite promising: “Resultant therapeutic method variations in pollen allergy with special consideration of oral desensitizing of pollen-allergic children with honey.” Sounds like they found something to me. Any German readers with access to research literature want to chime in?

But my personal opinion is that it can really work for seasonal, pollen allergies, because I’ve experienced it firsthand. On a family camping trip to Big Sur, I got a horrible case of hay fever. It was insanely windy all week, so all sorts of allergenic plant compounds were blowing around. It was like I had a tiny cloud of dust and pollen following me around, a la Pigpen from Peanuts. I’d never had it that bad – headache, stuffy nose, bleary red eyes – and it hit me about three hours after our arrival. I felt like I had the worst cold in the history of the world. I actually wanted to go home. On our second day, however, while on a hike, I came across an old guy selling raw, local wildflower honey by the side of the road. A handcrafted cardboard sign read “Good for hay fever.” I thought, “Why not?” and bought a pint. The guy was nice and enthusiastic about his product, and I always like to support small apiaries.

I took a big glug of it and continued on the hike. It was real good, not too sweet and with a raw floral quality to it. Again, I don’t eat a lot of honey, but this stuff was legit – even through my clogged nasal passages. We got back to camp, made dinner, and I went to bed soon after darkness fell. Nose was still stuffy, head was still congested, misery level was still elevated.

And then I woke up, and while things were still backed up, I could tell it was better. A thin jet of air even squeaked through my clogged right nostril, allowing me to breathe and (most importantly) taste the bacon that morning. Another glug of honey down the hatch. Overall, I’d say things were 25% better at this point. By late afternoon, I was 75% better. I kept taking hits of honey and by next morning, I was perfectly fine. Now, I suppose it’s possible that the honey acted as a placebo and my hay fever was already on its way out – I didn’t control for variables, there were no placebos involved, and I randomized absolutely nothing, so there’s no telling for sure. But I doubt it had no effect. Too many other people report similar experiences to make me dismiss my own experience as nonsense or coincidence.

I will say that if you’re going to use raw honey to fight pollen allergies, you’ll want to buy honey that comes from bees who deal with the same plants and flowers that produce the allergenic pollen in question. That means buying local, preferably wildflower honey. Unless you know for sure that your allergy is caused by a specific pollen from a specific plant, wildflower will give you the most bang for your buck by covering a large assortment of plants. So, while raw, unfiltered honey lovingly puked up by bees who subsist only on wild edelweiss growing in the Swiss Alps might taste amazing, it probably won’t do much for your allergies if you’re not allergic to edelweiss pollen.

Hey Mark,

Was able to get my parents eating according to the Primal Blueprint, and one of the things that really helps my mom is being able to eat the chocolate and the red wine (although she is saying that she is starting to feel pretty good). Then all of a sudden, this comes out:

What do you think of this? Is the reservatrol just one thing in the red wine, and it still has other antioxidants? What are a couple of winos to do?

Thanks,

Steven

Well, first of all, she’s feeling good, eating Primal, and that’s about all that matters.

Second of all, this guy who apparently fabricated a lot of his research on resveratrol , Dipak Das, isn’t the only resveratrol researcher in the world. He’s not even the foremost resveratrol researcher. He’s prolific, but others have done more. What I’m saying is that one guy fabricating his research doesn’t invalidate all the other research others have conducted on resveratrol.

Let’s put it into perspective with some actual numbers. He’s accused of fabricating data on 145 papers. That sounds pretty damning (and it is for his career and any research that relies on his) until you realize that a search for “resveratrol” on Pubmed alone returns 4, 479 papers . Subtract those 145 (and maybe another 145 to represent those papers that might have relied on Das’ research for some of their conclusions) and you’re still left with over 4,000 resveratrol papers. That remains an impressive body of research.

And red wine remains a delicious (potentially healthy) beverage. Besides, the potential health benefits of red wine extend beyond resveratrol (which isn’t actually present in very large amounts in wine). Red wine, being the product of grapes and grape skin, contains a bevy of phenolic compounds, many of which have antioxidant properties. Grape skins are particularly rich in flavonoids, including flavonols, anthocyanins, and tannins like proanthocyanidins. There’s even a Wiki page devoted to the phenolic compounds present in wine , and there are over three dozen individual compounds (depending on varietal and method of production). Some of the benefits of drinking red wine :

I don’t know about you, but I’m opening a bottle tonight. I suggest your mother continue to do the same (maybe with dark chocolate , too) if it pleases her.

That’s all for today, folks. Keep sending along your questions, and I promise to try to get to all of them. Thanks for reading!

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