How Our Diet Correlates with Seasonal Allergies
Depending on where you live, you may have noticed that the reprieve from springs' seasonal allergies are now gone. Back are the itchy eyes, runny noses and tingling in the chest.
While some of us may be aware that poor sleep and lack of managing our stress can worsen our allergy symptoms, our diet and how that affects the severity of our allergy symptoms isn't often talked about. Which is why I want to discuss it today.
First, though, let's talk about how inflammation overall plays a role in seasonal allergies.
Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to protect the body from harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, toxins, or allergens. However, when the immune system is overactive or out of balance, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to a variety of health problems, including allergies.
When you are exposed to an allergen, such as pollen, your immune system produces a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion.
Chronic inflammation can exacerbate these symptoms and make them more severe. In addition, chronic inflammation can also make the immune system more sensitive to allergens, which can increase the risk of developing allergies or make existing allergies worse.
There are many factors that can contribute to chronic inflammation, including a diet high in processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats; lack of exercise; chronic stress; and exposure to environmental toxins. Managing these factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce inflammation and improve allergy symptoms.
Why inflammation in an article about diet and seasonal allergies?
There are certain foods that are naturally high in histamine (the chemical that can cause an allergic response). There are also certain foods that we as individuals may have an allergy to or simply be sensitive to. If we consume these foods, even if we just have a sensitivity to them, we are increasing the amount of inflammation in our body. In return, this increases the severity of our allergy symptoms.
Now we're going to focus in on food sensitivities and seasonal allergies, and how the two are related.
Firstly, food sensitivities or allergies can cause inflammation in the body, which can weaken the immune system and make it more susceptible to environmental allergens like pollen, dust, or mold. This means that if you have a food sensitivity or allergy, you may be more likely to experience symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Secondly, some foods can contain allergens that are similar to those found in pollen or other environmental allergens. For example, if you are allergic to birch pollen, you may also be sensitive to certain fruits, such as apples, pears, or cherries, which contain similar proteins to birch pollen. This is known as oral allergy syndrome, or pollen-food syndrome, and can cause symptoms such as itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat.
Lastly, certain foods or additives can also trigger histamine release in the body, which can exacerbate symptoms of seasonal allergies. For example, fermented foods like wine, beer, or cheese can be high in histamine, as can artificial food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial colors and flavors.
Histamine is a naturally occurring compound in certain foods, and it can also be produced by bacteria in fermented or aged foods. For people with histamine intolerance, consuming foods that are high in histamine or that trigger histamine release in the body can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, flushing, hives, nasal congestion, and digestive upset.
Foods that are high in histamine or that can trigger histamine release include:
Fermented dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, kefir, and sour cream
Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles
Fermented soy products, such as tempeh and miso
Cured or fermented meats, such as salami, bacon, and ham
Fish and seafood that is not freshly caught or frozen, such as tuna, mackerel, and shellfish
Dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, and prunes
Nuts, especially walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits
Pineapple, strawberries, and kiwi
Tomatoes and tomato products, such as ketchup and tomato sauce
Spinach and eggplant
Chocolate, cocoa, and other cocoa-based products
Alcohol, especially red wine and beer
It's worth noting that the histamine content of foods can vary depending on how they are prepared and stored. For example, fresh meat and fish contain very little histamine, but as they age or are stored improperly, the histamine content can increase. Similarly, some foods like avocados and bananas may not be high in histamine themselves, but they can trigger histamine release in some people.
Now perhaps the most important part of this article: how do we know which foods we have sensitivities to?
One of the easiest, most precise ways to figure this out is to take a comprehensive food sensitivity test. These are at-home kits which use a few drops of your blood to test for food sensitivities. Not only do they tell you which foods you are sensitive to, but they also tell you your level of sensitivity. Equi.life and Everlywell are two brands I've used and find competent.
Of course, you can always try an elimination diet as well. Or you can journal whenever you feel certain gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating, heartburn, reflux or increased nasal congestion and see which foods you've recently had. Over time, you should start to get a sense of which foods you should probably decrease or even cut-out of your diet - at least during allergy season!
Eliminating foods from your diet that are naturally high in histamine as well as those that you are sensitive too can not only lower your overall inflammation levels and lessen the severity of your allergy symptoms, but it will help to keep your gut healthy in the long-run as well!