DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is it possible that consuming local honey can help build an immunity to local allergens? -- S.T., Berkeley, California
DEAR S.T.: Honey can contain trace amounts of proteins from the flowers serviced by the bees, but there is little data that consuming this honey can prevent, or even lessen, allergic reactions to those flowers.
If it worked, eating honey would be a convenient way to get desensitized to local allergens, and desensitization therapy -- also called immunotherapy -- is considered to be a good preventative treatment for some allergies. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the body's immune system, the one responsible for most allergic reactions, can respond to honey in that way.
Traditional immunotherapy usually involves injecting an allergen into the skin of the arm. The process is carefully orchestrated, starting out with minute amounts -- below the threshold of sensitivity -- and then gradually increasing the exposure until it's up to a level likely to be encountered in real life. It can take weeks or months to complete the regimen, and even then, there is no guarantee.
Local honey is likely to contain a "wild card" of allergens of unknown concentration. There would also be seasonal variations, making it difficult to project which allergens would be present, and in what amounts.
Absent the tenets of folklore, there is little objective evidence that eating local honey helps desensitize one to local allergens. It is a concept, however, that has its adherents. The practice is unreliable at best, and certainly not recommended for those with severe allergies.
One final note: Honey of any kind is not recommended for infants under 1 year of age. Honey can contain small amounts of botulism spores from dirt or dust, picked up by honeybees. This small amount isn't a hazard to older children or adults, but it does present a risk to an infant's immature immune system.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: You recently talked about vitamin names, and I was wondering: Is there a vitamin O? I suffer from migraines, and I have been reading literature that explains how this vitamin can help me. I believe that the "O" stands for the substance's oxygen-releasing ability. The vitamin is sold in a liquid form. The product is expensive, so I don't want to buy it if it isn't going to work. -- W.R., Madison, Wisconsin
DEAR W.R.: Vitamin "zero" would be a more appropriate name, because that's the number of studies I could find affirming its existence, or its theoretical effects. I did find a number of websites selling this stuff, which is strange when you consider there is no such compound. The Federal Trade Commission penalized a company in 2000 for making false health claims for "vitamin O" (tinyurl.com/q9k8cvr).
It's always best to investigate miraculous-sounding compounds, as you did, before you send in your money.
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