Food & Nutrition

Honey Side Effects- Allergies & Intolerance Symptoms, Botulism & Stomach Ache

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It is quite interesting to discuss honey side effects and dangers while you know that it is the sweetest and most long-lasting food known on the planet. It is also nutritious and has a number of health benefits. Despite, having all these wonderful qualities, it is also thought to have negative effects including allergies, botulism, stomach ache and more. Read on to find details

Raw Honey Side Effects/ Dangers in Adults & Toddlers

Honey allergy remains one of the biggest mysteries and limited research has been done in this area. However, hearsay and comments made on online platforms confirms that really, honey allergy exists. You shouldn’t dismiss honey allergies at any time exposure to honey is identified and if a patient has specific allergic reactions to pollen grains. These are known as pollen-allergic patients.

Raw honey is that which is not processed and not the typical commercially produced honey. This is usually filtered and pasteurized. It may even be diluted with a sweetening syrup that adds to its viscosity. Due to the filtration it goes through, the amount of pollen in the honey is normally lower than that in raw honey. This does not still eliminate the potential allergenic properties of honey.

honey side effects

Honey

There are other bee products such as propolis and royal jelly. The latter is also known as ‘milk for the bees’ as this is what is fed to all bee larvae mouth to mouth by the nurse worker bee for the first three days after hatching. Well, this is just a good to know.

Helbling A and Peter C et al (1992)[1], studied the looming claims on allergenic potential of raw honey more particularly the allergy to honey in relation to pollen and honey bee allergy. With 22 patients with a history of systemic allergic symptoms upon ingestion of honey, 30 other as the control were added: 10 subjects sensitized to artemisia, 10 with honey bee venom allergy and 10 without a history of atopy or bee sting reactions.

He used different types of honey including dandelion, forest and rape, all Swiss honey. Also used include, celery tuber, compositae pollen, an extract from the pharyngeal glands of the bees, its venom and its whole body extract.

Results showed that allergy to honey exists and not only linked to bee pollen but due to other components as well. However, primary sensitization may be due to either honey or airborne compositae pollen. Bee venom too.

Another study by Lombardi C and Senna GE, et al (1998)[2], described two cases of severe systemic reactions inclusive of anaphylaxis and angioedema or urticaria due to honey and royal jelly ingestion. The patient subjects in this study were sensitized to compositae.

Results showed that there is a link between the allergic reactions to honey and the jelly and existent sensitization to compositae.

Raw honey contrary to expectations can have side effects in both adults and toddlers. This section discusses most of them.

Raw honey botulism

This affects infants under the age of 18 months and should thus be avoided. In fact, age as low as 12 months should not receive honey. Why is this so? Honey contains some amount of bacterial botulinum spores and this is naturally occurring. When bees collect nectar, this may be transferred into the honey. The reason it mostly affects infants is due to their under-developed immune system and gastric acid secretion.

You will note this when the infant has constipation, body malaise, poor feeding habits and weakness. Death is possible with botulism. Remember that there are foods that contain honey such as some bread and this could be potentially harmful to the infant.

Stomach ache

Severe abdominal pain is probable as honey is rich in fructose and can therefore interfere with the absorption of fluids, water. This is due to the increased osmotic pressure in the lumen due to the fructose (Adam Jurgoński et al, 2014)[3]. It may even lead to diarrhea.

honey bad effects stomach ache and botulism

stomach ache

Honey anaphylaxis

evere allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis can occur when you eat raw honey in larger doses. According to a case report by Aguiar, Rita, et al, (2017)[4], though her case study did not indicate any sensitization of the patient to pollen and bee venom, there were proteins with a molecular weight similar to the one described by Baure et al, 1996[5]. According to Aguiar, honey may still be present in chocolate bars, cakes, gingerbread and candies and this masks honey allergies.

Food poisoning

This was evident when according to Von Malottki K and Wiechmann HW[6], a 49 year old Turkish man suddenly developed vertigo and retrosternal compression an hour after eating Turkish wild honey. This led to lowering of the heart rate (bradycardia) which was potentially life-threatening and was attributed to the presence of concentrations of acetylandromedol (formerly called andromedotoxin)

May spike blood sugar levels

Raw honey could also lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and an upsurge of glucose level marker, HbA1c in blood. It contains large amounts of glucose in blood. It may predispose to diabetes.

Nerve damage

The andromedotoxin in honey could cause nerve poisoning. Fortunately in commercialized honey, pasteurization removes it. This type of poisoning is also known as the ‘Mad Honey Disease’ (Jansen, Suze A., et al., 2012)

Tooth decay

Too much honey can lead to harm to your teeth. It is known that honey is made of more than 80% of sugar inclusive of glucose and fructose. This may be broken down into acidic compounds that may corrode the tooth enamel and cause decay.

Drug interactions

There are drugs that interact with honey since honey alters the liver’s cytochrome P450. The enzymes involved may be either induced or inhibited leading to poor pharmacokinetics of drugs. Such includes an interaction with warfarin an anticoagulant medication in a clinical case presented by Hurren and Lewis. Caution is recommended when using honey in patients taking antibiotics, heart medications and weight loss agents.

Risk of bleeding

Some sources suggest that caution be taken in people with bleeding disorders such as hemophilia as honey can lead to an exacerbation of these conditions.

Teratogenicity

Though there is lack of scientific evidence on the use of honey during pregnancy or breastfeeding, it should be avoided owing to the toxins it may contain. This may be harmful not only to the fetus, but also to the mother.

Honey Allergies &Intolerance Symptoms

Idiosyncrasy exists when you talk of honey allergy as people react to it in different ways. There are people who are susceptible to even a spoon of honey. In fact there are people who react to drinking out of the same water bottle as another person who had just drunk a honey flavored drink and some who react to contact with candies with bees wax.

Raw honey should be avoided in people who have a known allergy to celery, mugworts, pollen or any plant in the Rhododendron genus which contain andromedotoxin. This may be identified if the person has had an asthma attack, coughing, swelling of the lips or tongue, experienced itching and shortness of breath among other life threatening reactions after ingestion of any of the above mentioned.

Allergies to food are abnormal and occur in people who are atopic referring to an existent inherited tendency to have such reactions towards the foods. The reaction is mediated by IgE and this may be over-reactive in some people while not in others leading to the differential occurrence of the allergies in some.

It is however still not completely understood. However, some of the affected might have taken honey in large quantities and hence forced the allergic reaction to occur. Remember that all things are poisonous in large amounts, water too!

In some people however, it is understood such as in babies or infants below 18 years and the occurrence of botulism. Some of the signs and symptoms of honey allergies and intolerance in little babies include:

  • Severe constipation
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding habits
  • General body malaise
  • Drooling
  • Shortness of breath or dyspnea\
  • weakness

It is pertinent that you keep watch of the incidence of the above symptoms to avoid losing your baby to honey allergy. Signs and symptoms of adults and kids above 12 months include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Bradycardia
  • Urticaria
  • Glossitis
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Swelling of the face
  • Severe headache

Anaphylactic shock is likely to occur when you do not manage the allergy. This is a serious condition in which you develop shortness of breath and convulsions in some people. If you want to be on the safe side, never forget that the honey you took could be the reason for your signs and symptoms. It does exist.

Ideas & Tips to Prevent Honey Dangers

Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, here are some tips you could take home and use them to prevent the dangers of honey allergy.

  • Know the symptoms of honey allergy and how it manifests.
  • Know yourself well. If you have an allergy towards honey avoid it altogether.
  • Avoid foods that may contain hidden honey such as chocolate bars, cakes, gingerbread and candies.
  • Make sure that you read the label on the products you buy so as to determine whether there is any risk.

Sources and References

[1] Allergy to honey: relation to pollen and honey bee allergy.
Helbling A, Peter C, Berchtold E, Bogdanov S, Müller U.

[2] Allergic reactions to honey and royal jelly and their relationship with sensitization to compositae.
Lombardi C, Senna GE, Gatti B, Feligioni M, Riva G, Bonadonna P, Dama AR, Canonica GW,

[3] Jurgoński, A., Juśkiewicz, J., & Zduńczyk, Z. (2014). A high-fat diet differentially affects the gut metabolism and blood lipids of rats depending on the type of dietary fat and carbohydrate. Nutrients6(2), 616-626.

[4] Aguiar, R., Duarte, F. C., Mendes, A., Bartolomé, B., & Barbosa, M. P. (2017). Anaphylaxis caused by honey: a case report. Asia Pacific Allergy7(1), 48.

[5] Food allergy to honey: pollen or bee products? Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting.

Bauer L, Kohlich A, Hirschwehr R, Siemann U, Ebner H, Scheiner O, Kraft D, Ebner C., J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1996 Jan; 97(1 Pt 1):65-73.

[6] Von Malottki, K., & Wiechmann, H. W. (1996). Acute life-threatening bradycardia: food poisoning by Turkish wild honey. Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift (1946)121(30), 936-938.

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