Seasonal Allergies? Remember to Check Your Diet Supplements
Those with allergies to seasonal triggers such as tree or grass pollen know to check the weather forecast before going outside as prevention for the symptoms that are sure to follow. But most people are not aware that indoors there may also be a danger lurking – inside your dietary supplement. A case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) warns that bee pollen can cause severe anaphylactic reactions in those with allergic tendencies.
Bee pollen is a dietary supplement ingredient promoted as a natural remedy to enhance energy, vitality, memory and athletic performance. It has also been recommended for conditions such as alcoholism, asthma and stomach problems. Although research has not yet shown bee pollen to be effective for any of these health concerns, it is still widely available in health food stores and may also be an ingredient in skin softening products, such as those used to treat diaper rash or eczema.
Dr. Amanda Jagdis of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Gordon Sussman of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto report on a 30-year-old woman with seasonal allergies, but no history of other allergic reactions (such as to food, drugs, insects or latex) presented for emergency treatment two days after beginning a new dietary supplement regimen that included bee pollen. She had swelling of the eyelids, lips and throat as well as difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. She had also developed hives.
After emergency treatment and discontinuation of the bee pollen supplements, there were no further reactions.
Bee pollen supplements are made from the pollen collected on the bodies of bees from flowers, grass, dandelions and other plants that are commonly responsible for springtime allergies. Even less than one teaspoon has been reported to induce potentially life-threatening reactions.
Another product that contains bee pollen is propolis, a resin-like material with a long history of medicinal use. The topical product is often used for canker sores and infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It may also be used as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and as an ingredient in cosmetics.
"Anaphylaxis associated with the consumption of bee pollen has been reported in the literature, but many people remain unaware of this potential hazard," write Dr. Jagdis and Dr. Sussman. In one Greek study, 73% of atopic patients (those susceptible to developing allergic hypersensitivity reactions) had positive skin test reactions to one or more types of bee pollen extracts.
"Health care providers should be aware of the potential for reaction, and patients with pollen allergy should be advised of the potential risk when consuming these products - it is not known who will have an allergic reaction upon ingesting bee pollen," conclude the authors.
Amanda Jagdis and Gordon Sussman. Anaphylaxis from bee pollen supplement. CMAJ cmaj.112181; published ahead of print May 22, 2012.