Allergies are worsening thanks in large part to human-caused climate change lengthening pollen season and increasing the amount of pollen in the air. Recent research shows that compared to 1990, pollen has increased 21 percent, and that pollen season starts 20 days earlier and lasts 10 days longer.
If you’re on a quest to quell your allergy symptoms or cut back on medications that can have side effects like drowsiness, you might want to consider turning to nature’s medicine cabinet. Certain foods and nutrients have been shown to help allergy symptoms, while others have been shown to make them worse, according to Atoosa Kourosh, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and allergy and immunology specialist in Southlake, Texas.
Six natural remedies that may help quell your allergies
Dr. Kourosh says while no one thing is right for everyone. Metabolic and genetic testing are the best ways to find out what works best for you. Yet these six nutrients have been found to generally be helpful.
Important note: Before starting any supplement or making dietary changes, Kourosh says it’s essential to consult with your doctor. Just like prescription meds, supplements can cause side effects and interact with other medications. “I tell everyone to be mindful of supplement introduction,” says Dr. Kourosh. “Start with one at a time, then every few days add a new one, and gauge your response, both positive and negative.”
This polyphenol found in onions, broccoli, apples, berries, grapes, and tea has been shown in research to decrease inflammation and inhibit the production and release of histamine, the chemical the body releases in response to allergens. Quercetin is often taken in supplement form when used for allergy symptoms. Kourosh says that certain people may not be able to process quercetin well, so to start slowly when taking it, and be aware of side effects such as agitation.
Research has found that this group of enzymes from the fruit and stem of pineapple has antiallergic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also available in supplement form, sometimes in combination with quercetin. Bromelain should be avoided if you’re allergic to pineapple or latex (due to cross-sensitivity). It also has a blood-thinning effect and should not be taken without consulting with a doctor, especially if you're on blood thinners, says Dr. Kourosh.
Some studies have shown this vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables has an antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect, says Dr. Kourosh. A daily dose of 500 milligrams per day is safe for most adults. “However, too much of a good thing is possible, and it can cause diarrhea and GI upset” at higher doses, she adds.
Ginger and garlic
These two roots are highly anti-inflammatory and are likely more beneficial if you eat them fresh (as long as you don’t have a sensitivity) as opposed to taking them as supplements, says Dr. Kourosh.
Allergies and the immune system are all affected by vitamin D levels, and most of us in the Northern Hemisphere have inadequate levels due to the lack of sunlight, says Dr. Kourosh. “There is good data that vitamin D plays a critical role in immune system development, and that it can be helpful for allergies and asthma,” she adds. It’s best to get vitamin D levels tested to determine how much to supplement, and to take vitamin D3, the most effective form, with vitamin K2 for optimal absorption.
Foods you might want to pass on
If you have seasonal allergies, certain foods can cause what’s known as “pollen food allergy syndrome,” or PFAS. Also referred to as oral allergy syndrome, PFAS occurs because pollen and certain fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts are so similar they are cross-reactive, meaning they can confuse the body into thinking the food is an allergen.
“It’s a case of mistaken identity,” says Dr. Kourosh. “The proteins in the cell walls of pollen are so similar biochemically to those in the cell walls of certain foods that the body mistakes the food for an allergen. For those with the allergy, eating the food is like eating a mouthful of pollen.”
Cross-reactive foods can set off a histamine response that makes the mouth and throat itchy and irritated, and possibly even causes stomach upset or vomiting, says Dr. Kourosh. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, common cross reactions include:
Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, and plum
Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, and tomato
Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, and zucchini
The good news is not everyone with pollen allergies experiences PFAS, and those who do may find they can eat the food cooked, which breaks down proteins that cause the allergic response.
Finally, if seasonal allergies are just plain making you miserable no matter what you’ve tried at home, it’s probably time to see an allergist. Longer and more severe allergy seasons aren’t going anywhere, and having every tool to combat them at your disposal can help ensure the buds and blooms of spring are something you can look forward to instead of dread.
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