Despite claims about the allergy benefits of bee pollen, there are no studies supporting its efficacy. For some individuals it could create an allergic reaction with dangerous side-effects.
Have you seen this headline – “Bee Pollen Can Significantly Reduce or Eliminate Your Allergies?” If so, you have probably also read the statements about a study reported in the Journal of Allergy that found – “73% of patients with hay fever averaged a 75% improvement in their symptoms when given bee pollen. 78% of patients with asthma averaged a 75% improvement after taking bee pollen. 17.8% of hay fever sufferers and 33.3% of asthmatics experienced a complete improvement on oral bee pollen supplements.”
These are very impressive “findings” by anyone’s measure. There is only one problem. They are not true. There is no article in the Journal of Allergy that makes these statements. In fact, there is no study that shows the effectiveness of bee pollen on allergies. On the contrary, there are numerous well documented cases of severe allergic reactions to bee pollen. Some have resulted in cases of life threatening analphylactic shock.
The theory behind the use of bee pollen to reduce allergic reactions is that they desensitize the immune system to the problem allergens – much like allergy shots do. Unlike allergy shots, bee pollen taken by mouth delivers unpredicatable amounts of allergens that get digested. In addition, the idea of allergy shots is that they target the specific allergens to which the patient has been tested to be allergic.
Bee pollen is an unpredictable mixture of different pollens – most of which are not the offending allergens. Basically, an allergic individual becomes allergic to the allergens they encounter in their daily life. Most of these allergens come from plants that use the wind to pollenate other plants. These allergens are characterized by high numbers and being light enough to stay in the air for an extended period of time. Good examples are ragweed and mountain cedar. Bees cross pollenate flowers and other plants that do not pollenate through the wind. Since most atopic individuals have very little exposure to the pollen from flowers or other bee pollenated plants, they do not have allergies to them. Thus exposure to bee pollen is very unlikely to produce the correct allergens for desensitization.
It is also possible that the bee pollen mixture contains either cross allergens or the wrong allergens in sufficient quantities to cause an adverse reaction. So unlike a controlled physician supervised program like in allergy shots, the use of bee pollen can result in an undesirable outcome.
There are several lessons to be learned from this situation. First, it is very important to double check all internet references. If you read it on the internet, there is probably a better chance that it will be false than true. The use of sites like webmd.com, the site for National Jewish Hospital or the site from the Mayo Clinic is highly recommended. Generally, the information on these sites is peer reviewed and accurate.
Secondly, consider the source. A quick review of sites citing this bogus research on allergies and bee pollen indicates that most of them are selling or promoting bee pollen. This is just a wild guess, but they may have a vested interest in providing a favorable opinion of their product.
In most cases the erroneous advice provided on the internet is relatively harmless. One might lose some money – but that is about it. In this case, the adverse reactions for the allergic or asthmatic individual could have serious consequences.