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Functional Medicine for Seasonal Allergies

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

This blog was originally posted in April of 2020

Do you remember what it was like this time of year before Covid-19? Before waking up every day to new safety measures and graphs? My biggest concern every spring was always around a different kind of health problem: seasonal allergies. It’s that time of year again: our streets, cars, lawn chairs, LIVES are just about covered in pollen. It’s okay though, we know that with all that pollen comes all the beautiful buds and flowers that make spring so enjoyable. However, pollen also brings with it seasonal allergies, which are obviously not so enjoyable. While I tend to surrender to my fate of horrific seasonal allergies every year, there are still a few things I’ve learned through functional medicine (using food as medicine) to help mitigate my symptoms.

First, we know that seasonal allergies/hay fever are periods of acute inflammation within our bodies. Inflammation isn’t inherently bad, it’s your body’s natural first response to an invasion from a potentially harmful pathogen or an injury. Though minor inflammation may be helpful in small doses, chronic inflammation may lead to irritation, illness, and ultimately disease. In addition to a trusty arsenal of antihistamine pills and nasal sprays, food can play a role in helping alleviate our allergy symptoms. Try adding some of these food items to your daily menus this spring and see their beneficial effects for yourself!

Quercetin: Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant flavonoid found in lots of different fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s been found to be helpful with reducing high blood pressure, cancer risk, and pollen-induced allergies! In addition to its antioxidant potential, quercetin has strong anti-inflammatory properties and works by disrupting your body’s inflammatory response genes and in doing so, it acts as a natural antihistamine! Foods that are rich in quercetin include capers, apples, onions, cabbage, spinach, kale, and green tea!

Bromelain: Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple that is most well known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties. It seems to work by reducing your body’s oversensitive allergic responses while also stopping the development of other inflammatory responses that can affect your breathing. The only food that naturally contains significant levels of bromelain is pineapples, specifically the core (I like to juice the core or add it to smoothies since it can sometimes be a little too tough to eat). You can also try bromelain supplements. I found mine at the grocery store!

Probiotics: Most of us have heard by now that the majority of your immune system lives within your gut (near 80%). It has been found that certain healthy bacterial strains help balance your immune system’s antibodies. Studies have shown that people who supplement with probiotics have been found to have less overall congestion during allergy seasons as well as a reduction in nasal passage inflammation. Other than supplementation, foods that contain relatively high levels of probiotics include kefir, kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, and other fermented foods.

Nettles: Stinging nettles can be a real pain when you run into them out in the woods. They can cause rashes, itching, and swelling. But when processed into a supplemental form (pills or tea) they can have amazing therapeutic benefits. They contain beneficial fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3s), which are great for lowering inflammation. In addition to lowering inflammatory markers within the body, nettles also work to block histamine receptors and inhibit overly sensitive immune cells from triggering allergic response symptoms. Just note that most of the evidence used to make the case for stinging nettles is anecdotal and scientific evidence is still very sparse. Additionally, nettles are not recommended for those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, blood clotting disorders, or are pregnant without talking to your doctor first.

Other Anti-Inflammatories: Turmeric: The active substance in turmeric is curcumin, which has been found to be one of the most anti-inflammatory compounds in the world. It actually inhibits the release of histamine as well as the body’s allergic response system. It has also been found to increase nasal airflow while supporting the body’s correct immune responses. I like to add turmeric to my eggs for breakfast or drink it as tea. Omega-3 fatty acids: Consuming higher levels of omega-3s has been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects, which can disrupt the chemical pathways that lead to allergic reactions. Studies have found that increasing the consumption of omega-3s from walnuts and fish has led to a decreased risk of developing allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, salmon, chia seeds, hemp seeds, eggs, and avocados. I feel like I could go on and on about beneficial foods and supplements for helping with seasonal allergies. Basically, if you just incorporate as many fresh, local, and organic/certified naturally grown food items into your diet, you’re helping your body fight inflammation and therefore your allergy symptoms.

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