It’s that time of year again. The pollen starts to stir, irritating the millions who suffer from seasonal allergies. While most of us happily welcome the warmer weather, for the estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, spring brings misery. Thanks to the pollen from blooming grasses, weeds and trees, and the spores from fungi and molds, those with allergies will experience the next few months through a haze of watery, itchy eyes and clogged heads. It is hard to breathe, hard to sleep and hard to get through the day.
A family history of allergies seems to be the strongest risk factor. However, allergic conditions are increasing, and no one is exactly sure why. One theory is that having less exposure to pathogens and bacteria early in life increases susceptibility to allergies. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that having pets, more siblings, and a greater number of early viral infections are associated with a decreased risk for allergies.1-3
While many may reach for an over-the-counter allergy medication, there is another way to reduce allergy symptoms: through your diet. A study of 56 different countries found that populations with higher rates of tobacco use, trans fat consumption, and acetaminophen use had higher rates of allergies and asthma, while populations with higher consumption of plant-based foods had lower rates of those conditions.4 I have personally seen in my medical practice that a change to a high-nutrient diet has many benefits, including an improvement in allergy symptoms. Avoiding dairy, eating healthfully and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help lessen symptoms. Probiotics may also be useful in reducing symptoms.5
Following a quality, high-nutrient diet consistently promotes proper immune function and regulation of inflammatory response, both of which can help blunt allergy symptoms naturally. Here’s how:
- Higher intake of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, is associated with reduced seasonal allergies in children. Similarly, high blood levels of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, are associated with a lower likelihood of seasonal allergies in adults. 6, 7 These nutrients should come from a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and not from beta-carotene supplements.
- Higher omega-3 intake (primarily ALA and EPA) and higher blood levels of omega-3 have been associated with reduced risk of seasonal allergies in adults.8, 9 Several studies have also suggested that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy likely reduces the risk of allergic reactions in the child.10, 11 ALA is plentiful in walnuts and flax, chia and hemp seeds. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are found in fish, but due to concerns about mercury and other pollutants, an algae-derived omega-3 supplement is a better option.
- Getting adequate vitamin D during pregnancy may be protective. 12 Adults deficient in vitamin D are more likely to have allergies than those with sufficient levels. 13 Supplementation with vitamin D3 may prove beneficial.
- For children, being breastfed and eating a healthful diet early in childhood are protective factors.14 Consuming fruit, vegetables and nuts has been associated with reduced asthma and allergy symptoms.15
A diet that is nutrient dense and rich in plant foods, like the Nutritarian diet, provides antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that protect against allergies. I have observed patients improve their symptoms and even resolve their seasonal allergies between one and two years after beginning a Nutritarian diet. Eating dark green vegetables and berries, foods that are high in flavonoids and carotenoids, can help improve and relieve your symptoms
- Wang DY: Risk factors of allergic rhinitis: genetic or environmental? Ther Clin Risk Manag 2005, 1:115-123.
- Matheson MC, Walters EH, Simpson JA, et al: Relevance of the hygiene hypothesis to early vs. late onset allergic rhinitis. Clin Exp Allergy 2009, 39:370-378.
- Anyo G, Brunekreef B, de Meer G, et al: Early, current and past pet ownership: associations with sensitization, bronchial responsiveness and allergic symptoms in school children. Clin Exp Allergy 2002, 32:361-366.
- Asher MI, Stewart AW, Mallol J, et al: Which population level environmental factors are associated with asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Review of the ecological analyses of ISAAC Phase One. Respir Res 2010, 11:8.
- Guvenc IA, Muluk NB, Mutlu FS, et al: Do probiotics have a role in the treatment of allergic rhinitis?: A comprehensive systematic review and meta analysis. Am J Rhinol Allergy 2016.
- Seo JH, Kwon SO, Lee SY, et al: Association of antioxidants with allergic rhinitis in children from seoul. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res 2013, 5:81-87.
- Rosenlund H, Magnusson J, Kull I, et al: Antioxidant intake and allergic disease in children. Clin Exp Allergy 2012, 42:1491-1500.
- Nagel G, Nieters A, Becker N, et al: The influence of the dietary intake of fatty acids and antioxidants on hay fever in adults. Allergy 2003, 58:1277-1284.
- Hoff S, Seiler H, Heinrich J, et al: Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. Eur J Clin Nutr 2005, 59:1071-1080.
- Anandan C, Sheikh A: Preventing development of allergic disorders in children. BMJ 2006, 333:485.
- Kremmyda LS, Vlachava M, Noakes PS, et al: Atopy risk in infants and children in relation to early exposure to fish, oily fish, or long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: a systematic review. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2011, 41:36-66.
- Erkkola M, Kaila M, Nwaru BI, et al: Maternal vitamin D intake during pregnancy is inversely associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis in 5-year-old children. Clin Exp Allergy 2009, 39:875-882.
- Frieri M, Valluri A: Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for allergic disorders and immune mechanisms. Allergy Asthma Proc 2011, 32:438-444.
- Kneepkens CM, Brand PL: Clinical practice: Breastfeeding and the prevention of allergy. Eur J Pediatr 2010, 169:911-917.
- Chatzi L, Apostolaki G, Bibakis I, et al: Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete. Thorax 2007, 62:677-683.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a family physician, New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, and has appeared on hundreds of radio a...
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