If you suffer from seasonal (or chronic) allergies, the Spring and Summer months may be your least enjoyable time of the year. As the flowers bloom and the grasses grow, your ears, nose and eyes keep you inside. However, there are a few things you can do via diet that may help you enjoy the summer months once again and maybe even save some money on over-the counter anti-histamines down the road.
Eat a Whole Foods Diet:
By eliminating processed foods and eating a diet rich in quality grass-fed meats and wild caught seafood, fruits & vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds your diet will help reduce inflammation and histamine production. The benefits don't stop there! Many people are sensitive to food additives such as sulfites, MSG, food coloring, and added sugars all of which may contribute to allergic symptoms. By switching to a whole foods diet like the Mediterranean Diet, Anti-Inflammatory Diet, Whole 30, or Paleo you will naturally reduce the consumption of these additives.
Dietitian Tip: No matter what whole foods based diet you choose aim for at least 6 servings of veggies per day and 2 servings of fruit. One serving is equal to: 1 cup of leafy greens, ½ cup hardy veggies, 1 cup diced melon or berries, and 1 medium piece of fruit.
Increase Foods Rich in Magnesium & Calcium:
Did you know that more than two thirds of Americans consume less than recommended magnesium daily? Magnesium is a mineral that is required in over 300 enzymatic reactions including histamine metabolism. It is found in whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and leafy greens. Pumpkin seeds are one of the richest sources of magnesium. Other big super stars include quinoa, chia, flax, almonds, dark chocolate, oatmeal, and spinach. Aim to eat 3 servings of magnesium rich food daily to ensure adequate intakes. Furthermore, calcium has been found to have a regulatory role in histamine release as well.
Dietitian Tip: Monitor your intake of calcium rich foods such as grass-fed dairy, sardines with bones, or calcium fortified nut milks to make sure you are getting close to 1000mg daily. You may also consider an additional magnesium supplement of 200mg of magnesium glycinate per day and note for improvement in symptoms. Discuss this with your health care provider.
Increase Foods Rich in Vitamin C:
Vitamin C helps prevent the release of histamine from mast cells. As with magnesium, many Americans are not getting adequate vitamin C via their diet. Foods rich in vitamin C include papaya, raw bell pepper and broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruit, and cantaloupe. Aim for at least 2 servings of vitamin C rich fruit or veggies per day.
Dietitian Tip: Camu Camu is a supplemental powder and can be a great adjunct to a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables. One teaspoon of Camu Camu powder provides ~680mg vitamin C (760%). I suggest mixing Camu Camu powder in smoothies or juices for best tolerance.
Eat Fermented Foods:
Many research studies have looked at the effect of various probiotic strains in patients with chronic or seasonal allergies. In most studies, probiotics have been found to significantly reduce symptoms. This is not surprising as gut dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria) can contribute to both environmental allergies (pollen, grass, dander, etc) and food sensitivities. Nancy’s yogurts and kefirs, Good Belly Shots and Drinks, and Kevita Probiotic Beverages all provide therapeutic probiotic strains via food.
Dietitian Tip: Try a probiotic for 2-3 months to see if you note further improvement. Choose one with one or more of the following researched strains: Bifidobacterium longum BB536, L. salivarius PM A0006, Lactobacillus johnsonii EM1, or L. paracasei HF A00232. Discuss this with your health care provider for product suggestions.
Enjoy Local Honey:
Most people have heard that raw local honey can help reduce seasonal allergies. Although there is not much research in this area, I have heard testimonials from patients and friends that they have found an improvement in their symptoms with the daily addition of raw local honey. The only study I was able to find did see a significant improvement in participants who consumed 1g/kg of honey daily for 4 weeks in addition to 10mg of loratadine (anti-histamine). To put this in perspective a 150lb individual would need to eat ~ 3 tablespoons of honey per day to get close to the study recommendations. So, if you like honey, adding a little to your tea, homemade salad dressings, or drizzled over plain yogurt, will not hurt, and perhaps it will help!
Check Your Vitamin D Status:
The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is significantly higher in individuals with allergic rhinitis. In latitudes above 40 degrees North or South, vitamin D production via the sun is insufficient between the months of November through March. Also sunblock with an SPF factor of 10 reduces vitamin D production by 90%. Therefore, many individuals here in Bellingham are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Dietitian Tip: Ask your health care provider to test your vitamin D level annually and replace as needed. Aim for levels between 40-60 ng/mL. Linus Pauling Institute recommends that general healthy adults supplement with 2000IU daily.
Consider Food Elimination:
If you have done all of the above without good effect on symptoms, I suggest looking into possible food sensitivities as these are often related. Work with a trained dietitian or certified nutritionist to help guide you through a 4-6 week elimination diet excluding the most common symptom evoking foods including dairy and wheat/gluten. A more comprehensive elimination diet may be utilized if the elimination of gluten and dairy do no provide relief.