Can Local Honey Really Help With Seasonal Allergies?

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Seasonal allergy sufferers know that relief from streaming eyes, itchy throats, and stuffy noses can be elusive. One of the more widely touted home remedies is eating local honey or bee pollen to help prevent symptoms. The theory is that by exposing yourself to pollen produced by nearby plants—presumably the same ones triggering allergic responses—you can train your immune system to not react.

If you're plagued by pollen, you might be tempted to stock up on local honey—but don't head to the farmer's market just yet. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergists don’t believe local honey has a medicinal effect on allergies.

There are a few reasons why honey, delicious as it is, isn't an allergy cure-all. For one, most people with seasonal allergies are responding to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds—plants that bees rarely pollinate. (They prefer non-allergenic flowering plants.)

What’s more, pollen of any variety isn’t present in honey in large quantities. Bees make honey from nectar, not pollen; any pollen that ends up in honey is there accidentally, and according to the National Honey Board, it's only present in trace amounts that won't have a noticeable effect on your immune system.

The available science supports that claim: One study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in 2002, found that sufferers who ate either local honey or commercially produced non-local honey got no more relief from their symptoms than sufferers who took a honey-flavored placebo.

Commercially available bee pollen supplements are also touted as a method of allergy relief for their purported ability to teach your immune system to be calm in the presence of pollen. But the supplements contain far more pollen than what most people would be exposed to by just walking around—which means they can actually make allergies worse. Just 50 pollen grains per cubic meter of air can trigger hay fever symptoms; one study estimated that there could be between 0.4 and 6.4 million pollen grains in a single gram of bee pollen.

It's probably not surprising, then, that there are reports of patients with pollen allergies suffering reactions as severe as anaphylaxis after consuming bee pollen. But that's not the only reason these supplements could be harmful: In an article for the Journal of Dietary Supplements [PDF], researchers explained that because pollen is collected by bees in less than sterile conditions, bee pollen may be adulterated with mold and bacteria, and caution that “it is impossible to produce a stable, consistent, and clean product from this contaminated source.”

Though honey and bee pollen won't help allergy sufferers get relief, they do have options. There are two immunotherapies currently available and approved by the FDA: the allergy shot and a sublingual (under the tongue) tablet. (Sublingual drops and anti-allergy toothpaste are also available outside the U.S.) Both methods give you a repeated, low-dose exposure to an allergen, adapting your immune system into not responding to that allergen—exactly what honey and bee pollen are supposed to do but don't. And unlike bee pollen or local honey, these treatments are administered or prescribed by a doctor, the doses are regulated, and studies have demonstrated their efficacy, all of which lower the risk of adverse reactions and increases your chance of successful treatment.

9 Surprising Facts About the Scientific Study of Sex

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vadimguzhva/iStock via Getty Images

The scientific study of sex is much more exciting than an awkward sex ed class. While writing my book Sex Weird-o-Pedia, these were some of the most interesting facts about science and sex that I came across.

1. Some sex researchers didn't want their findings to get into the wrong hands.

The pioneering sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing didn’t want his knowledge in the hands of ordinary folk. So he wrote Psychopathia Sexualis, the founding document of modern sexology—which was published in Germany in 1886 then translated and published in English in 1939—in Latin to discourage regular Joes (and/or Janes) from reading it.

2. You burn more calories mowing the lawn than you do having sex.

Young woman poses for selfie while mowing the lawn
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Sex might seem strenuous when things get hot and heavy, but it's usually not that great of a workout. You'd have to go at it for nearly 200 minutes to burn as much energy having sex as you do during a 30-minute run. Even mowing the lawn burns about three times more calories than sex. According to the British Heart Foundation, sex burns about the same amount of energy per minute as ironing clothes.

3. A surprising number of mothers claim to be virgins.

In a 2013 study of several thousand pregnant women in the U.S. published by BMJ, about 1 percent of the participants claimed they were virgins when they gave birth. This, of course, calls into question the veracity of studies that rely on self-reported sexual behaviors.

4. Penicillin may have ignited the sexual revolution.

One economist says that penicillin, and not the birth control pill, was the real enabler of the sexual revolution. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2013 shows that penicillin contributed to a 75 percent decline in the number of deaths caused by syphilis from 1947 to 1957. Since the new treatment made sex safer, people started having riskier sex, which resulted in increases in the numbers of children born out of wedlock and teenage pregnancies.

5. Twins can have different dads.

A photo of fraternal twins
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While it is very rare, it is possible for fraternal twins to have two different fathers. What’s more common is for a rom-com to be based on this scenario.

6. Gender may influence how people handle sexual jealousy.

Research from evolutionary psychologists indicates that people’s gender influences how they react to sexual jealousy. For men, they react more strongly to sexual unfaithfulness than emotional infidelity. For women, it is the reverse. The theory behind these behaviors comes back to evolution: Males who were intolerant toward their wives becoming sexually active with other men were less likely to become an object of derision and more likely to see their own genes pass onto future generations. Women who prevented their husbands from emotionally bonding with other women reduced the chances of the men spending their resources on other women.

7. One of Ivan Pavlov's colleagues created his own (slightly x-rated) conditioning experiment with dogs.

You’re probably aware of Russian researcher Ivan Pavlov and his famous conditioning experiment in which he trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell. What you might not know is that one of Pavlov’s American students, W. Horsley Gantt, conditioned dogs to become sexually aroused when they heard specific tones. The experiment, according to Mandy Merck's In Your Face: 9 Sexual Studies, was intended "to study conflicts of the drives between ... experimentally induced anxiety states and sexual excitement."

8. Couples whose first child is a girl are more likely to get divorced.

Parents pay attention to their phones instead of their daughter
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Married couples whose first child is a girl are more likely to get divorced than those whose first child is a boy. Scientists are split as to why this is. One theory is that female embryos are better able to endure maternal stress than male embryos, so pregnant women in unhappy marriages are less likely to have a miscarriage if the child they are bearing is a girl. But once they have a daughter, these couples are more likely to split up since there were already fissures in their relationship prior to the child’s birth.

9. There's a link between pubic hair and STIs.

A downside of pubic grooming is that it might raise STI risk. In a study conducted by a University of Texas scholar, people who regularly shaved their pubic areas contracted STIs about 80 percent more often than those who never shaved down there. One suggestion is that those who regularly shave are more likely to tear their skin, making it easier for viruses to enter the body.

Ross Benes is the author of Sex Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Shocking, Scandalous, and Incredibly Bizarre Sex Facts.

Airplane Water Quality Is Even Worse Than Previously Believed

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anyaberkut/iStock via Getty Images

While air travel is convenient, there's never any promise it will be particularly clean. Security checkpoint bins and airplane tray tables are notorious for harboring germs. In addition to being careful of what you touch, you need to be cautious about what you drink.

Air travelers have been warned in the past about the questionable water quality of major airlines. Owing to inconsistent water transport issues, storage methods, and lackadaisical monitoring, several studies and investigations—including a 2004 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—have found bacterial contamination and even insect eggs lurking in liquid served to passengers in the form of coffee and tea.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t appear to be getting any better. A new study on the quality of airline tap water conducted by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center found E. coli, coliform bacteria, and other unpleasantries across 11 commercial and 12 regional carriers.

The study ranked airlines according to water quality tests, and whether airlines were forthcoming in disclosing how they handle water transportation and storage for in-flight plumbing, using a scale of 1 to 5. While some airlines, like Alaska and Allegiant, scored well at 3.3, others (including JetBlue, Spirit, Delta, and United) ranked poorly in terms of delivering healthy, clean water, which is often sourced from local municipalities.

Low scores also indicated a lack of transparency about the airlines' water monitoring process. Moving the water from its source through hoses and tanks can create opportunities for the water to become contaminated.

How can questionable water be served? While the EPA introduced an Aircraft Drinking Water Rule in 2011 that mandated quarterly cleanings of airplane holding tanks and bacteria tests, Condé Nast Traveler reports that the agency does little to enforce it, typically opting not to issue fines to airlines found to be in violation of the terms.

The study’s authors recommend people avoid drinking tap water, coffee, or tea while on airplanes and should instead opt for bottled water. Because the stored water is also used for lavatory sinks, it’s possible you might introduce germs to your hands even after “cleaning” them. Hand sanitizer is recommended.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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