Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans, and it turns out allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, symptoms are our bodies’ way of being overprotective.
The immune system mistakes irritants such as airborne pollen, dust, mold or pet dander as viruses, bacteria or parasites that are trying to enter the body. Mucosal membranes of the nose, eyes, ears, sinuses and lungs try to defend our bodies, resulting in the classic allergy symptoms of itchy and watery eyes, head and nose congestion, runny nose, sneezing and difficulty breathing for those with asthma.
For most people, these symptoms can be reduced with over-the-counter medication. Others may have to visit a primary care provider or allergy specialist for more advanced treatment.
One way to naturally support your immune system during allergy season is to incorporate healthy foods into your diet.
Yogurt and food with live cultures
Even though studies have not specifically targeted which probiotics and other “good bacteria” combat allergies, studies have shown probiotics may be a promising boost for allergy prevention and treatment. Studies have also shown probiotics and “good bacteria” help regulate and strengthen your immune system as “good bacteria” and flora in our bodies can affect our immune responses positively.
Turmeric is commonly thought to help with allergies because it contains curcumin. Research has shown curcumin can stop the production of some inflammatory molecules in mice. One study even suggests that humans might reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms with daily turmeric consumption.
An apple a day may actually help keep allergies away because apples are high in quercetin. Quercetin is found in other foods such as berries, capers, grapes, cabbage, cauliflower, onions (especially red onions), shallots, tea and tomatoes. Quercetin can help the body fight allergies because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in two common fish: tuna and salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids in these fish may help protect against inflammatory conditions such as allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in walnuts and flaxseed.
Almonds and cashews are both high in magnesium. Magnesium, one of the most abundant minerals in your body, helps reduce inflammation and stress, as well as regulate blood pressure, nerve transmission and insulin metabolism. Other foods high in magnesium include wheat bran, kelp, legumes, fruit, fish and meats.
The vitamin C in oranges can enhance the immune system. Vitamin C largely is used to prevent the common cold, but the intake of all types of nutrients also can be used to strengthen the immune system against allergies. Other foods high in vitamin C include broccoli, strawberries and red peppers.
The theory behind eating local honey for allergies is like the idea behind allergy drops and injections: Consuming local pollen allergens in honey will help build immune system tolerance to these pollens.
It seems reasonable in theory (and quite tasty), but the concentration of pollens in honey is much less than that needed to induce immune tolerance. The specific benefit of using local honey for allergies is a myth. However, various kinds of honey from different plant sources have been found to contain quercetin, which can boost health and disease resistance.
The theory behind all of these foods is that they may act as anti-inflammatory agents or antihistamines. However, there needs to be more allergy-targeted research to prove their effectiveness. Regardless, these healthy foods are nutritious if consumed moderately as part of a balanced diet.
So, if you’re struggling with allergies, give these foods a try.
Learn more about allergy and immunology care at Baylor Scott & White.
This blog post was contributed by Aneesh Angirekula, a medical student at Texas A&M College of Medicine. He is planning on pursuing a career in internal medicine and is currently interested in specializing in allergy/immunology.
- Middleton’s Allergy Essentials. Robyn E. O’Hehir (Elizabeth), 1954- author. S. T. Holgate author.; Aziz Sheikh author. 2017
- Campbell, D. E., et al. “Mechanisms of Allergic Disease – Environmental and Genetic Determinants for the Development of Allergy.” Clinical & Experimental Allergy, vol. 45, no. 5, 2015, pp. 844–858., doi:10.1111/cea.12531.
- Lee, Jun Ho, et al. “Curcumin, a Constituent of Curry, Suppresses IgE-Mediated Allergic Response and Mast Cell Activation at the Level of Syk.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 121, no. 5, 2008, pp. 1225–1231., doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2007.12.1160.
- Wu, Sihai, and Dajiang Xiao. “Effect of Curcumin on Nasal Symptoms and Airflow in Patients with Perennial Allergic Rhinitis.” Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, vol. 117, no. 6, 2016, doi:10.1016/j.anai.2016.09.427.