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22-05-2012 | Immunology | Article

Sting in the tail for bee pollen users


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MedWire News: Bee pollen supplements, taken as a natural health product, can cause severe anaphylactic reactions, particularly in people allergic to airborne pollens, Canadian researchers report.

However, many people who take the supplements for reasons ranging from longevity to weight loss "remain unaware of this potential hazard," say Amanda Jagdis (University of British Columbia, Vancouver) and Gordon Sussman (University of Toronto, Ontario).

Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Jagdis and Sussman present the case of a 30-year-old woman with seasonal allergies, but no history of allergies to food, drugs, insects, or latex, who had an anaphylactic reaction after taking bee pollen supplements.

Ten minutes after taking her second dose of supplements, she experienced swelling of the eyelids, lips, and throat, difficulty swallowing, hives, shortness of breath, and felt faint, lightheaded, and weak.

The symptoms resolved after emergency treatment with epinephrine, diphenhydramine, and intravenous fluids. The woman had no further reactions after she stopped taking the supplements.

Jagdis and Sussman explain that bee pollen supplements consist of pollen granules collected from plants by bees. Anaphylaxis associated with the consumption of bee pollen has been reported in the literature, mostly as case reports and one small case‑control study.

The case‑control study showed that 73% of 145 patients with atopy had positive skin test reactions to bee pollen extracts. Furthermore, there was a statistically significant correlation between positive skin test reactions to bee pollen extract and skin test reactions to olive, grass, and mugwort pollens.

Mugwort is a member of the Compositae family of plants. Allergy to ragweed, another Compositae plant, has also been detected among patients with acute systemic allergic reactions following ingestion of bee pollen.

Both ragweed and mugwort produce airborne pollen, and Jagdis and Sussman suggest that the presence of airborne pollen in bee pollen supplements may contribute to the risk for allergic reaction, particularly if the bee pollen contains a substantial amount of airborne pollen to which an individual is sensitized.

"Although bee pollen is marketed as a natural health supplement, it has the potential to cause substantial allergic reactions when ingested by patients with pollen allergy," say the authors of the paper.

The conclude: "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."

By Laura Cowen

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