Springtime is a favorite time of year for many people. Unfortunately, it can also be a time when allergies kick in, making people uncomfortable if not downright miserable. In fact, more Americans than ever—about 50 million, or 1 in 5 Americans—say that they suffer from allergies. Likewise, 55 percent of Americans test positive for one or more allergens.
A whopping 40 million of those have indoor/outdoor allergies as their primary allergy, with the most common triggers being trees, grass, weed pollen, mold spores, dust mites and cockroach allergens. Likewise, 10 million people are allergic to cat dander, the most common pet allergy. Other pet allergies include dog and rodent dander.
It’s easy to see the outward signs of allergies, too. They include sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, coughing and sometimes hives, rashes and more. What’s not seen, however, is what’s happening on the inside, including inflammation. Allergies are characterized by the human immune system overreacting to a foreign protein substance that is breathed into the lungs, eaten, touched or injected. This immune overreaction is what causes the allergic symptoms.
What’s perhaps worse is that allergies can limit activities in more than 40 percent of the people they affect. Then there’s the cost, which is estimated to be nearly $7 billion each year. It can cost in terms of work and productivity, too. Allergies are a major cause of work absenteeism and “presenteeism,” resulting in nearly 4 million missed or lost workdays yearly—with a setback of more than $700 million in total lost productivity.
The best way to deal with allergies is to avoid the allergens, of course. When this is possible, it’s the most effective. Some choose to treat allergies with medicines or immunotherapy (allergy shots), but that’s not for everybody.
Fortunately, eating a healthy diet can help. Leonard Bielory, M.D., a Rutgers University professor and chairman of the integrative medicine committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) has this to say: “An overall healthy diet is helpful for controlling all conditions, including allergies.”
Research suggests that certain foods help fight allergies by supporting healthy inflammation, air passages and in other ways. The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in nuts, fresh tomatoes, grapes, oranges and apples, may be one way to provide some allergy relief. In studies, Greek children who ate this diet were less likely to exhibit allergic nasal symptoms or asthma.
Here are some other foods that may help:
- Probiotic-rich Foods: Among other studies, an Italian study found that children with allergic rhinitis who drank fermented milk with probiotics had fewer allergic episodes.
- Cold-Water Fish and Other Omega-3 Foods: Salmon and other cold-water fish are packed with omega-3s and support healthy inflammation levels, which can lead to allergy relief. Other foods to eat are walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Fresh Veggies and Fruits: These fine foods help to support healthy inflammation levels, which, in studies, led to improved allergy responses. Veggies and fruits with vitamin C may be particularly helpful. Carolyn Dean, M.D., says, “Vitamin C indirectly inhibits inflammatory cells from releasing histamine.” Itchiness, hives and other uncomfortable allergy issues are due to histamine, but studies indicate that vitamin C reduces histamine and helps to break it down faster once it’s released, resulting in allergy symptom relief.
- Bioflavonoids: Some studies say that bioflavonoids provide allergy relief because they act as mast-cell stabilizers, which decrease the number of cells reacting to an allergen. One noted bioflavonoid, quercetin, may be especially powerful in fighting unhealthy inflammation and in offering allergy relief. You can find quercetin in apples, onions, tea and red wine as well as other foods.
- Magnesium-rich Foods: Almonds, cashews, wheat bran and kelp can go a long way in allergy relief because magnesium is a bronchodilator and an antihistamine, says Dr. Carolyn Dean. Magnesium is also calming to muscles of the bronchial tubes and to the whole body, which can soothe allergies.
- “Kicky” Spices: Anise, fennel, horseradish and hot mustard all act as natural decongestants and offer allergy relief to help break up congestion, says Janet Maccaro, Ph.D., a clinical nutrition consultant from Scottsdale, Arizona.
It sure is great to know about these foods—especially if you’re on alert for allergies!