Can Manuka Honey help allergies?

Think of allergies and most of us think of peak hay fever season in the summer – with the sneezing, running eyes and coughing that can result from contact with grass pollens for so many of us. But hay fever can start as early as March for anyone who reacts to birch pollen. And while hay fever is one of the most common allergies, there are many other allergic diseases that can affect people year-round, including eczema and asthma. Anyone with an allergy will know it can be a struggle to manage symptoms. But there’s some anecdotal evidence that honey in general – and Manuka Honey in particular – may have a role in helping staying on top of them.

What exactly is an allergy?
An allergy happens when your immune system makes immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies are meant to banish parasites from our bodies but we don’t have many of those to worry about in modern Western society. Instead, looking for a job to do, the IgE antibodies wrongly identify something harmless – like pollen or dust – as a foreign body and try to shift it out of the body, encouraging mast cells to release chemicals called histamines, which leads to the classic allergy symptoms such as rashes and wheezing.

How Manuka honey may help...

Manuka Honey & Hay fever
Honey’s a traditional folk treatment for hay fever, and some modern scientific research has confirmed it may help. In a 2013 Malaysian study, people with allergic rhinitis – of which hay fever is a form – took 1g of honey per kilo of their body weight every day for four weeks, along with an allergy medication, and their symptoms improved significantly more than the control group, who only took the conventional medicine. Scientists think honey may have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects that help soothe the allergic reaction.1 If you want to try honey for hay fever, why not make it Manuka and get the most potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial benefits? There’s also been limited research to suggest Manuka Honey may have particular powers when it comes to a type of allergic rhinitis caused by fungal spores, although more studies are needed.2

Manuka Honey & Eczema
Medically known as atopic dermatitis, eczema causes itchy, inflamed skin, and can be extremely debilitating if severe. It’s another condition in which there’s anecdotal evidence people are using honey and finding it helpful. So far, there isn’t much research to back this up but one small study found topical Manuka honey significantly eased inflammation and other symptoms in eczema. The researchers behind the study found that one of its actions was to regulate histamine release.3 And as Manuka Honey is known to have skin-healing properties, it could also help with soothing irritated, inflamed skin.4

Manuka Honey & Asthma
The jury’s still out on whether Manuka Honey could be helpful in managing asthma at its root. But, as Manuka Honey is proven to help soothe coughs, experts believe it could at least help treat that particular symptom5 – try a spoonful to soothe a dry, irritated throat. Asthma’s potentially life-threatening, so always continue to use your inhalers and any other medication as prescribed, alongside taking Manuka Honey to soothe a cough.

A word of caution...
Although there are some common allergens – like nuts, pollen, dust and mould spores – the reality is almost anything can potentially cause an allergic reaction. Honey’s no exception, especially as it may sometimes contain small amounts of pollen. So if you notice any tell-tale allergic symptoms when you eat honey, such as rashes and wheezing, steer clear.

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Article References

1 Asha’ari ZA et al. Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Ann Saudi Med. 2013 Sep-Oct; 33(5): 469–475

2 Tamboo A et al. Single-blind study of manuka honey in allergic fungal rhinosinusitis. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011 Jun;40(3):238-43

3 Alangari AA, Morris K, Lwaleed BA, et al. Honey is potentially effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: Clinical and mechanistic studies. Immunity, Inflammation and Disease. 2017; 5(2): 190-99

4 McLoone P et al. Honey: A Therapeutic Agent for Disorders of the Skin. Cent Asian J Glob Health. 2016; 5(1): 24