Is Our Diet Making Our Seasonal Allergies Worse?

Allergies can be the worst, forcing us to wake up every morning for weeks at a time like we feel like we have the worst cold ever, except it never actually does away.

We keep on hoping that there’s something we can be doing to help the symptoms, and many believe the changing our diet can help to alleviate symptoms – or avoid them getting worse. But is that actually true?

Well, maybe. Depends who you are. Everyone experiences allergies differently. “When seasonal allergies strikes, a chemical called histamines is released into the body which causes the classical symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes and nose, etc.,” says  Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation, for CityMD.Some foods, such as picked / fermented foods (blue cheese and sauerkraut) and alcohol (beer and wine), contain histamines and thus can worsen symptoms for those suffering from seasonal allergies when consumed,” says Dr. Shih.

This year’s pollen count has been record high and seasonal allergies have been worse than ever. “Since we cannot do much to avoid exposure to the environment and the allergens that exist, it is important to know how your allergies can be decreased through your diet and how your allergies can actually worsen your diet,” says physician nutrition specialist, Dr. Nancy Rahnama.

Most who have environmental allergies are on daily antihistamines. Unfortunately, antihistamines have been associated with weight gain, as they can increase appetite and slow down metabolism. However, more importantly, it has been shown that those who are overweight have worsened allergy symptoms. “A slight histamine reaction may result in worsened sinusitis or even asthma in overweight individual. The reason is that excess weight results in increased inflammation and a greater histamine reaction when an individual is exposed to their allergen. Many who are able to successfully improve their diet are able to decrease overall allergy symptoms,” says Dr. Rahnama.

Others, especially those prone to seasonal allergies, may also experience oral allergy syndrome, or OAS. “OAS typically presents as itching in the mouth, throat and / or ears,” says Dr. Shih. People experiencing OAS do not have true food allergies. Rather: “The proteins in the fruit/vegetable resembles the pollen they are allergic to,” says Dr. Shih. For example, those who are highly allergic to ragweed pollen may find they experience a reaction when eating foods that have similar proteins, like bananas, cucumbers and green peppers.  Other common OAS-triggering foods include apples, pears, kiwis, cherries, peaches and carrots, among others. Oddly enough, cooking the fruit or vegetable changes its protein and people with OAS can usually eat it with no problem. Also peeling the skin of these fruits (apples/ pears) can also reduce the exposure of these proteins and reduce symptoms.

What you can do in the short term to minimize their allergy symptoms is also within reach. “It has been shown extensively than if you increase the amount of green vegetables, particularly broccoli, kale and cruciferous vegetables, it is likely to decrease allergy symptoms,” says Dr. Rahnama.  Additionally, increasing vitamin c intake has been shown to decrease allergic reactions and to further help the sinuses repair from allergy exposure. “This vitamin c can be added through the diet through increased citrus intake, or more simply as a supplement. It has been suggested that as little of 500 mg of vitamin c a day can decrease allergy symptoms and the chances of having a sinus infection as a result of the allergies,” says Rahnama. Tomatoes, which are high in lycopene, have also been associated with a decrease in allergy symptoms and asthma.

Or, you can have a glass of wine. “Resveratrol, which is found in nightshade fruits, such as grapes and blueberries have been shown to suppress the IgE mediated allergic reaction that results in seasonal allergy symptoms,’ says Dr. Rahnama. That’s not all:  Quercitin, which is found in apples, is another nutritional anti-inflammatory agent, which can act as natural antihistamine. 

It’s important to know, however, that not all allergy sufferers will experience adverse effects, or positive ones either,  to foods. “If you think you are experiencing an allergic reaction like OAS, contact your allergist, primary care doctor or nearest urgent care center for advice and treatment,” says Dr. Shih.

So as with any other situation, of course pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel – but you may just have to survive until the end of allergy season. Good luck!