Seasonal Allergies and the Food Connection
Ahh…Spring! The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the flowers are in full bloom. As refreshing and beautiful as this season is, it can also be a difficult time for allergy sufferers. Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, affects millions of people every year. For seasonal allergies, the immune system reacts to airborne pollens, typically in the spring and summer, and mold spores in the fall and winter. Symptoms can include itchy, red, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, headache, wheezing, fatigue, low grade fever, “brain fog” and even joint pain. People with allergies tend to have hyper-sensitive immune systems, and it is important to support and regulate the immune system to minimize symptoms.
So how does what we eat play a role in how bad our seasonal allergy symptoms may be? Experts recognize that food intolerances seem to be connected with seasonal allergies. Furthermore, certain foods support our immune system, while others tend to compromise it. Simply put, it is a matter of ‘overload’ for our immune systems. The immune system overreacts to harmless substances that enter the body. A chain of chemical reactions occurs, producing chemicals including histamines that are released and trigger allergic symptoms. Diet can help by controlling inflammation of our air passages and preventing food allergy reactions that can trigger allergies and asthma.
Food allergies or intolerances are common, yet are often hidden. However, at times when our bodies are confronted with other allergens (pollen, dust, mold, etc.) or life stressors (poor eating habits, not getting enough sleep, etc.) the hidden allergies may be activated. What happens is that the immune system is working overtime to fight off all of the ‘invaders’, the body’s resistance then breaks down, and physical symptoms surface. In addition to food allergies, there are often chemical substances in our foods that are difficult for our bodies to process. This adds to the immune system overload that we experience.
Concomitant allergies are those foods that cause reactions when other allergens such as pollen, dust or mold are also present. Some plants have related food allergies, for example, eating grains such as wheat when ragweed is at its peak can trigger an allergic reaction. Surprisingly, concomitant food reactions can occur up to six weeks after the end of the pollen season.
What can we do to minimize the allergic response? First, clean up the diet. Reduce foods in the diet that tend to increase inflammation including saturated animal fats from meat and dairy products, and refined foods including white flour and sugar. For general health and to reduce the allergic overload, be watchful of possible food allergens in the diet. Common problematic foods include dairy, corn, wheat, soy, peanut, citrus, nuts and shellfish. Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco intake can also contribute to immune system overload. By reducing offenders, the immune system is less burdened and therefore better able to manage potential allergens more effectively.
Here are some healthful additions to the diet that can be important in the management of seasonal allergies:
- Bioflavonoids, such as quercetin, can reduce allergic reactions by having an antihistamine effect and reducing inflammation. Apples, berries, red grapes, red onion and black tea are among the foods that are high in this beneficial nutrient.
- Vitamin C, also a natural antihistamine, is abundant in foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables.
- Mixed carotenoids reduce inflammation and aid in reducing allergic response. They are found naturally in red, yellow and dark green fruits and vegetables.
- Omega-3 fats, found in fish oil, nuts and seeds also reduce inflammation of the air passages.
- Spicy foods, including cayenne pepper and ginger, thin mucus secretions and clear nasal passages.
- Increasing fiber which supports a healthy and active colon, can decrease food sensitivities and lessen the burden on the immune system, therefore reducing the impact of seasonal allergies.
- Drinking clean water, about one-half of our body weight in ounces per day can thin mucus secretions and hydrate mucous membrane tissues.
Optimal nutrition, including maintaining healthy eating habits and addressing suspected food allergies can be an important key to managing seasonal allergies. A holistic approach can not only help to alleviate or reduce allergy symptoms, but also helps to address the underlying cause of an overactive immune system. Many people find that by avoiding food intolerances and eliminating or minimizing processed foods, problems with environmental allergies often improve. And that, in itself, adds to the beauty of the season.
Patty Canton, Healthy Living and Heathy Eating Coach for Special Needs and Neurotypical Children.