For many, the approach of summer brings with it the misery of hayfever. Allergy symptoms like sneezing, itching, rashes and the like are caused when our bodies release histamine in response to an allergen. A balanced immune system is the key for preventing seasonal allergies. We experience an allergic reaction when the body over-reacts to harmless substances like pollen and produces antibodies to attack the substance. We need our immune system to react appropriately to infections and the like but not to harmless substances. Your immune system may be out of balance for several reasons, it could be that the way your immune system developed has predisposed you to develop allergies or there may be genetic components. These things you can’t change, but there many factors that you can affect.
You’re particularly susceptible to an imbalanced immune system after a physical stress, such as an injury or surgery, underlying illnesses, and during times of emotional stress. Stress plays a big part in the immune system, and unmanaged stress can lead to allergy symptoms. Even a lack of sleep (another form of stress) can make you more prone to allergies.
The foods that we eat can affect how our immune system functions, with some foods tending to promote a stronger reaction to allergens.
Helping Allergy Symptoms
As food can have such a big influence on the immune system, the first thing to do is to ensure the way you eat is helping not worsening your symptoms. There are some foods it could be worth trying to avoid during the allergy season.
Foods that commonly make hay fever symptoms worse include alcohol, caffeine, dairy, chocolate, peanuts, sugar, wheat and gluten-containing foods, citrus and chocolate. In addition, many common food preservatives, such as sulphites, and artificial sweeteners may contribute to your allergic rhinitis symptoms. Avoid dried fruits, bottled citrus juice, and any highly processed foods, which may contain these preservatives and sweeteners. Industrially produced seed oils (e.g., sunflower, sesame, corn) may encourage inflammation. In addition, avoiding cow’s milk dairy may be helpful for some people.
Many foods can look to the immune system so like hay fever allergens that they can trigger a reaction. Examples of foods that cross-react in this way are melons, bananas, cucumbers, celery, peach, apple, mustard seed, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile. It may be worth experimenting with avoiding these foods to see if this helps you.
And of course, you should definitely avoid any foods that you know you are sensitive to! The idea behind limiting the foods mentioned above is to lighten the overall burden on your immune system to discourage an over-reaction.
The list of foods may feel overwhelming, but it is likely you won’t need to avoid all of these during the allergy season…experiment to see which foods do affect you and which don’t. If you’re not sure how far-reaching your food sensitivities are, an elimination diet done under guidance from a nutritional therapist or dietician, can help identify foods that can make your allergies worse.
Foods to help rebalance your immune system
Fortunately, there are plenty of great tasting foods that will likely help relieve your symptoms.
Raw local honey
Hot and spicy foods
Apple cider vinegar
Fresh organic vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables
Free-range meat and poultry
Wild-caught, oily fish
Raw local honey is at the top of this list, for good reason: patients who ate local honey had significantly better control of their allergy symptoms than those on conventional allergy medications in one study. (15) This is because local honey works contains the local pollen that is likely causing your allergies. It sounds contradictory but by eating these pollens, you train your immune system that they are not harmful and do not need to trigger an immune response. A couple of tablespoons each day can relieve your itchy, watery eyes, congestion and the general symptoms of hay fever.
Hot and spicy foods can help to reduce inflammation and reduce congestion.. Try adding garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne pepper to your recipes. Turmeric in particular can prevent histamine release.
Bone broth, from chicken, beef or lamb, has many health benefits and in particular may help ease respiratory and nasal problems. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and supports the immune system.
Probiotic-rich foods also support the immune system and have been shown to be beneficial in reducing allergic symptoms. Try including kefir or yogurt (goat kefir and yogurt are available if you find that cow’s milk dairy worsens your symptoms), sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha, natto, unpasteurised goat or sheep cheese.
The enzyme bromelain found in pineapple, in addition to high levels of vitamins B, C and other essential nutrients can help to reduce your reaction to seasonal allergies. Be sure to eat the core of fresh ripe pineapples as it has the highest concentration of bromelain. Similar enzymes are found in papaya and kiwi fruit.
Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine which is found in black grapes, raspberries, green leafy vegetables, and also in broccoli, red onions, peppers, apples, and black or green tea.
Apple cider vinegar may help to reduce inflammation.. Three times per day, before meals, mix 1 tablespoon of ACV with 1 tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a half-tablespoon of local raw honey and drink.
Fresh organic vegetables, have so many benefits being high in nutrients that are essential for proper functioning of the immune system. Choose vegetables that are dark green, yellow or orange for best nutrient density.
Wild-caught oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, free-range poultry, beef and lamb are higher in the essential, omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for the body to make natural anti-inflammatory compounds. A high intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce allergy symptoms.
Why not just take medicines?
Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants, as well as other over-the-counter allergy medications, counteract the effect of the histamine produced by the body. However, they can have side effects. The most common are:
Dryness of the eyes, nose and mouth
Remember, these medications don’t address the underlying factors contributing to the allergies — they just treat the symptoms. And many aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, or with thyroid problems.