Avoiding your allergy triggers remains the best possible way to stay symptom-free, but eating a well-balanced diet can offer some allergy relief.
One such study found that the staples of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, such as nuts, grapes, oranges, apples, and fresh tomatoes, could provide allergy relief. Researchers focused on Grecian children who followed the particular diet and were less likely to show allergic nasal symptoms or asthma.
Probiotics“Probiotics have been proven to provide both anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects, especially when given in pregnancy and breastfeeding,” says William Silvers, MD, an allergist in Englewood, Colo., and chairman of ACAAI’s sports medicine committee. In a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, mothers who drank milk containing a probiotic supplement during and after pregnancy were able to cut the chances their babies would develop eczema, a condition related to other allergies, by nearly half. Additionally, an Italian study found that young children (aged 2 to 5) with allergic rhinitis who drank fermented milk containing the probiotic Lactobacillus casei for 12 months experienced fewer allergic episodes than children who drank a placebo.
Spicy foods and with a little kick can help kick out allergy symptoms. “Anise, fennel, horseradish, and hot mustard can all act as natural decongestants — they offer allergy relief by stimulating the mucosal cilia to help break up congestion,” says Janet Maccaro, PhD, CNC, a clinical nutrition consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz. Look for recipes with those ingredients or add them to your favorite standbys when you start feeling stuffy.
Fruits Rich in Vitamin C
Blame itchiness, hives, and other discomfort you feel during an allergic response on histamine. Vitamin C can help you with that. “Vitamin C indirectly inhibits inflammatory cells from releasing histamine,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. Studies have shown that high levels of vitamin C reduce histamine and help it break down faster, once it’s released, providing allergy symptom relief.
In addition to its histamine-fighting power, vitamin C foods also provide allergy relief by reducing inflammation — the key to underplaying allergies. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it counteracts the inflammatory effects of free radicals,” Dr. Bielory says. Simply put, foods containing vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, apples, and watermelon, counteract the inflammatory allergic response.
Some research shows that bioflavonoids can provide allergy relief by acting as mast-cell stabilizers, thus decreasing the number of cells reacting to an allergen, Bielory says. Mast cells are responsible for releasing histamine. One specific bioflavonoid, called quercetin, appears to be particularly powerful when it comes to fighting inflammation and providing allergy relief, Dr. Silvers adds. Good sources of quercetin for allergy relief include apples, onions, tea, and red wine, among others.
Foods Rich in Magnesium
“Magnesium-rich foods, such as almonds, cashews, wheat bran, and kelp, are excellent foods for allergy relief, because magnesium is a bronchodilator and an antihistamine,” Dr. Dean says. Magnesium also has a calming effect on the muscles of the bronchial tubes and the whole body, Dean adds, which can provide allergy relief, too. One study out of Brigham Young University showed that animals deficient in magnesium had higher levels of histamine in their blood when exposed to allergens than did animals with adequate magnesium levels.
Foods Rich in Vitamin E
"The gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E seems to decrease allergy-related inflammation,” Bielory says. In a study from Michigan State University, animals that were given high doses of gamma-tocopherol before breathing in heavily polluted air had less inflammation in their nasal passages than animals that weren’t given the gamma-tocopherol, he says. The dose of this form of vitamin E in the study was extremely high — you would have to drink gallons of soybean oil a day to get the same allergy relief. But using soybean oil in place of other fattier oils certainly can’t hurt.
“Cold-water fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that may help with allergy relief,” Silvers says. Other foods rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3s include walnuts and flaxseeds, both which can add a nutty crunch to any dish.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
One sure way to improve your diet is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, Silvers says. Their natural anti-inflammatory effects can help relieve allergies. An Italian study supports the theory. Researchers looked at the diets of more than 4,000 children over the course of 12 months and found that kids who ate lots of cooked vegetables, tomatoes, and citrus fruits were less likely to experience wheezing, shortness of breath, and other symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Children who ate more bread and margarine, on the other hand, were more likely to wheeze.