Birch sap to cure pollen allergies? Biology student presents findings at UAF research conference.

Published: May. 15, 2019 at 6:14 PM AKDT
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Around the Interior the leaves are green, which means spring is finally here and so is birch allergy season.

This week the University of Alaska Fairbanks is holding its annual One Health Research Conference starting Wednesday through Friday.

“So at the ORCA conference this week I will be presenting on my research with birch pollen and birch sap proteins and the correlation between the two to try and find a tie-in to try and alleviate birch allergies,” said Annie Enderle is an undergraduate student in the biology department.

She is speaking on Thursday in a discussion on birch sap, pollen and autoimmune responses to the body.

“I’m from Fairbanks and my whole life I have had terrible birch allergies and this is my fifth year not having any reaction to the birch pollen, to the allergy it is amazing.”

Enderle was first interested with birch sap and it’s correlation with allergens when her dad asked her if she wanted to tap birch trees with him.

“So a number of years ago my dad decided to tap birch trees and he asked if I wanted to try it and so I took a little sip and had a quarter cup of it and I noticed week’s later that I did not have my normal heavy congestion and birch allergy symptoms,” she said.

Enderle thought it was strange so she approached a local allergy doctor in Fairbanks.

“So I thought that was strange, and I approached Dr. Foote at the Tanana Valley Clinic about this phenomenon. I was like is this a real thing? Does that really work? I heard that if you drink birch sap it can get rid of your birch allergies” she asked Foote.

Enderle said he told her there was antidotal evidence that it works, but there is no scientific evidence to back it up.

So she got to work, and started cross comparing samples of birch sap with that of a pharmaceutical prep that has the birch pollen allergens.

“At the time Dr. Feronte was running the molecular- immunology lab. I said you know I wanted to look at birch sap so we could figure out what was in it that might be alleviating my birch sap symptoms and he adopted me into the lab and we stared looking at the proteins that are in birch sap and again Dr. Foote got involved and he donated a pharmaceutical prep that has the birch pollen allergens in it so we could cross compare and look at them to see which ones corresponded, which ones were the same,” said Enderle.

She did some analysis and found there are a hand full of proteins that are the same in the pollen and in the sap.

“So the idea is then those are the proteins that could redirect the immune response and make you tolerogenic of the birch pollen,” she said.

Enderle said she was surprised to find a correlation between the two.

“I think that it really ties into this one health model of tying in our human health with our environment. Looking to the environment for ways to help us allergy sufferers, and I think that’s just probably the highlight for me. It’s interesting and birch sap is bio readily available and it’s there and we just have to tap trees we are not re-inventing anything we are using what’s already in the environment and that’s a really neat approach to combating allergy relief,” she explained.

Enderle said it’s exciting work because there are so many people in the Fairbanks area in the Interior that suffer from birch allergies. She said there is still a lot of research to be done but is excited to have scientific evidence that could potentially change the way that people treat birch pollen, birch allergies and possibly other things that are afflicting people.