10:57am

Tue April 17, 2012
Health, Science, Environment

Try this for your seasonal allergies

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down. But what if the medicine itself were sweet?

People have taken honey through the centuries as a treatment for a variety of ailments – including as an allergy suppressant. But can something that tastes that good really be a medicine?

There are many over-the-counter products designed to combat allergies, but San Francisco resident Patrick Love is among those who swear by unprocessed, locally produced honey. He started trying this cure after moving to the Bay Area from Texas, and says, “My allergies haven’t bothered me since being here in San Francisco. They’ve improved 100 percent.”

The key is that the honey be locally produced. “The bees forage in the local weeds and the local plants and the native plants,” explains Carmel farmer Jaime Collins. “If those are the things you have allergies to, and you eat that, you immunize yourself to it."

Sounds logical. But Paul Koski is of two minds on this subject. As a former high school science teacher, he knows that there are no studies to verify the medicinal qualities of local honey.  But he hears about this often as a member of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association. “I’m in the middle in terms of pollen and allergies and local honey,” he says.

“I would never use the honey as a first approach to the patient treatment,” says Dr. Nataliya Kushnir, an allergist and immunologist in Berkeley and Walnut Creek. She was educated in Russia, where honey is widely used as a folk remedy, and admits that there could be benefits to eating honey, beyond taste. But she adds, “I think it would be silly, knowing what we know about allergy treatment.”

And who would fund a study to determine this, when clinical trials take years and cost millions, and honey is so readily available? Not beekeeper Koski. “I’d have to do my own double-blind study,” he says, “and I don’t have the time to do that, and it doesn’t pay to do it. So I’ll just continue eating my honey.”

“I’ve seen everything work, and I’ve seen everything not work," says homeopathic physician Corey Weinstein in San Francisco. “I had a patient who was absolutely cured by blueberry juice. And he was! And I’ve never seen it be effective again.”

Nataliya Kushnir has also seen honey work with some of her patients. “I tell them there’s nothing bad about taking honey, unless you’re allergic to honey itself.” But to be safe, the only prescription she confidently gives with honey, whether or not it’s locally produced, is “put it on your pancakes, since it is usually addressed as a food.”

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