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Researcher studying honey
as possible allergy remedy
(April 5, 1999)

Could a spoonful of honey keep the sneezing, wheezing, itching, coughing and watery eyes of seasonal allergies away? An immunologist at the Health Center thinks it's possible.

Thiruchandurai RaJanuary professor and chair of pathology, is now in the second year of a study on the healing powers of locally grown honey. About 50 men and women are participating in the study. Half of the participants will eat a tablespoon of honey every day from now through the end of September, through both the spring and summer allergy seasons. The other half of the study subjects will follow their usual allergy routine, which may include prescription drugs or over-the-counter remedies. Both groups will keep daily journals detailing their symptoms.

And if this year is anything like last year, the participants who are taking honey every day should find significant relief from their symptoms, Rajan says.

"We're very encouraged with the preliminary findings of this study. Most participants reported relief from symptoms while taking honey," Rajan says.

If the study continues to go well, the next step for RaJanuaryis to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health, Office of Alternative Medicine, for a larger, nationally based study.

Rajan, whose work usually focuses on finding vaccines for tropical diseases, became interested in allergies out of concern for his daughter, Meena. His interest was heightened when a handful of accidental deaths were linked to use of one of the allergy medications she was taking.

Coincidentally, as he began to think about alternative ways to treat Meena's allergies, he read a paper about oral tolerance, which offered the theory that our bodies become familiar with substances we ingest. Once this happens, we do not have allergic reactions when we ingest or inhale them.

So, he theorized that if humans can somehow ingest local pollens, they will not have severe reactions when they breathe pollens in the spring-time air. Local honey is rich in the same pesky pollens that make people sneeze, because honey-generating bees pick up pollen as they light on plants.

In 1996, Meena started taking honey for her allergies - and it worked. Then Rajan began to bring together larger study groups.

"The idea of people not having to take potentially dangerous drugs is very encouraging," he says. "All of the prescription medicines for allergy sufferers are very powerful, with very powerful side-effects. I have real concerns about the chronic ingestion of long-acting drugs."

Honey is not safe for infants under one year of age, Rajan warns, but for everyone else it is perfectly safe and natural.

The honey study is no longer accepting new participants. Rajan says allergy sufferers who wish to see for themselves if local honey helps alleviate seasonal problems should start taking daily doses of honey now.

Local honey is available at apiaries, produce stands and health food stores.

The honey can be taken as one tablespoon or divided into two generous teaspoon servings. It can be eaten with food - on cereal or toast or yogurt - but should not be heated.

Maureen McGuire