Honey is a sweet, sticky substance produced by bees and other insects that collect nectar from flowers. Raw honey is not pasteurized, so spores and pollens naturally inside the honey remain there. Raw honey has been used in traditional medicine for centuries because it is believed to help cure everything from allergies to infected wounds. Although many people believe in the healing powers of raw honey, there are serious potential side effects, such as allergic reaction, intoxication and food poisoning.
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You may come down with a case of food poisoning after eating raw honey. Raw honey is a potential source of botulism spores, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms of food poisoning from botulism include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever. If you experience any of these symptoms after consuming raw honey, you should contact your health care provider. In adults, these symptoms are generally initially more uncomfortable than dangerous, but can become life-threatening if they are left untreated. In babies, whose immune systems are still weak, botulism is very serious and you should call a doctor immediately. The NIH recommends that babies under one year old never be given honey, and that people of all ages should eat pasteurized honey to be safe from food poisoning.
Some people eat raw honey in the belief that the tiny particles of pollen in local honey can be considered an inoculation that will make your seasonal allergies less intense. By eating small amounts of the trees or flowers you are allergic to in the honey, the theory is, you build up your tolerance to these allergens. However, this theory is flawed and the side effects are dangerous, according to Chris Wagner, a nurse at Dallas Children's Medical Center, in an interview on WFAA-TV Dallas/Fort Worth. Wagner said he has seen cases of anaphylactic shock in people who eat raw honey with allergens in it. Anaphylactic shock an allergic reaction at its worst, as its symptoms are widespread and include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, heart failure and possible death. Signs of less severe allergic reactions that may result from eating honey include, itching, puffy skin and rash. Because you cannot control how much pollen is in the raw honey you eat, Wagner does not recommend consuming it to help treat allergies.
Honey can be made from many different kinds of flowers, such as flowers in the Ericaceae family that includes Rhododendron -- a common garden plant. The nectar of flowers in this family contains a substance called grayanotoxin, according to a 1997 article published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The article, titled "Poisoning by Mad Honey: A Brief Review," explains that grayanotoxins are chemicals that are toxic to the your nervous system. They prevent nerve cells from functioning properly, and therefore prevent your brain from being able to properly control your body. Grayanotoxins will be killed during the honey pasteurization process, but may be present in certain types of raw honey. Mild honey intoxication side effects include weakness, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and a prickling sensation inside your body. Heart problems are a more serious side effect possible if large amounts of raw honey is consumed.