As the Southern Hemisphere moves into spring, therefore brings the season where many individuals suffer from respiratory allergies, commonly known as hay fever. Hay fever symptoms are due to the impact of airborne pollen grains which enter the nose, mouth, and lungs causing sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. While it may sound counterintuitive to help manage hay fever by consuming pollen, a well reported and interesting benefit of ingesting bee pollen is the effect it can have on the body’s histamine production, which is also offered as over-the-counter medicines at the pharmacy for those seeking relief from hay fever symptoms.
Whilst inhaling pollen grains is the basis for seasonal allergies, ingesting pollen does not cause the same symptoms. It acts on the gut immune system in a different way and may in fact help tone down immune responses which cause respiratory allergies. Though interest has seen it become a trending topic – through various celebrity endorsements and popular TikTok videos – the relationship between bee pollen and histamine production has been on the radar of researchers for many years.
The authors of the 2015 article ‘Bee Pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application’ drew on a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, which demonstrated bee pollen has an inhibiting effect on histamine release from mast cells (a primary histamine releasing immune cell subset), lending to the anti-allergic benefits of bee pollen.
Histamine is a chemical that is released by mast cells that are part of your immune system. When your body overreacts to the presence of an allergen, it is the released histamine that causes unpleasant allergy symptoms such as itching and sneezing.
The study also noted bee pollen’s antimicrobial properties and high levels of anti-inflammatory activity. Anti-inflammatory activity is the key for dampening down the immune system, and pharmaceutical antihistamines aim to achieve this indirectly.
More generally, bee pollen can also help to support your immune cells, which is the system that is challenged and under stress when you’re having an allergy flare. In 2021, Medical News Today shared a reviewed article that compounds in bee pollen, such as flavonoids, may help to reduce the impact of allergies on the immune system.
To all the allergy sufferers out there, the time to try a new dietary intervention might be now. Pollen-related allergies are likely to worsen as the seasons are impacted by climate change. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, if the world continues to produce carbon dioxide emissions at current rates, we could be looking at a pollen season that starts 40 days earlier. This highlights that those suffering respiratory allergies may experience a longer season for respiratory allergen susceptibility.
Pro tip: Increasing your water intake is another natural tool in your kit for alleviating allergies, as histamines are expelled from the body through urine.
If you’re on the lower end of the allergy intensity spectrum, ingesting bee pollen as a daily routine could help you reduce the risk of symptoms from respiratory pollen allergy. The gut immune system can reduce lung sensitivity through what is called gut-lung crosstalk. In practice this means – through ongoing dietary exposure – ingesting pollen may lead to the desensitisation of your immune system over time. However, if you have any history of allergic (anaphylactic) reaction to bee pollen, hive products such as pollen supplements should only be taken after consultation with your GP or specialist.
How are you preparing to tackle the allergy season?
By Keren Cook, NatureBee
Giampieri F, Quiles JL, Cianciosi D, Forbes-Hernández TY, Orantes-Bermejo FJ, Alvarez-Suarez JM, Battino M. Bee Products: An Emblematic Example of Underutilized Sources of Bioactive Compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2022 Jun 15;70(23):6833-6848. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.1c05822. Epub 2022 Jan 2. PMID: 34974697; PMCID: PMC9204823.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.