The Northern Hemisphere is starting to enjoy the beginnings of springtime in bloom and getting ready for summer fun. An unfortunate side effect to that spring and summer bloom, however, is the reaction it causes in many who struggle with pollen allergies. Luckily, there are some nutritional changes you can make this spring, to support your system and hopefully reduce your body’s reactions to allergens in the air.
Physiology of an Allergic Reaction
Typical summer allergies to pollen or plants are considered Type I allergic reactions, which are mediated by IgE antibodies released by the immune system. IgE antibodies trigger the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. The biological purpose of this reaction, and inflammation in general, is to widen the blood vessels and call more immune cells to the site of infection to quickly disable, kill, and flush out invading pathogens. The system works well when the invader is in fact a pathogen, but unfortunately, some bodies recognize harmless molecules from air or food as a threat, even when they are not. This is the case with pollen.
Because pollen is in the air, it can enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. An allergic system will send histamines to the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, and respiratory system in response. Your itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing are all symptoms of your body’s inflammatory response working overtime to rid you of something that is not actually a threat to your health.
Can I Reduce the Severity of My Allergies?
Depending on the severity of your allergy, a reaction may require a trip to the hospital and medication. Do not hesitate to seek emergency services if you have difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure due to an allergic reaction. On the other hand, if your symptoms are mild and more of a nuisance than an emergency, there are some nutritional options that may help to reduce the severity of your body’s inflammatory response to allergens.
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. It appears to decrease histamine secretion by white blood cells and increase histamine detoxification . In one particular study, two weeks of vitamin C treatment led most subjects to fewer runny noses, less stuffiness, and reduced swelling . Interestingly, patients with natural nasal pH’s closer to 8.0 (more alkaline/basic mucus) seemed to respond more favorably to vitamin C treatment . Because vitamin C is non-toxic and has very few side effects (diarrhea being the most common), this is a very safe option for supporting your system against pollen allergies.
Another study found that oxidative stress appears to play a key role in allergic reactions, and often, low vitamin C levels are measured in those with allergies . Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps to prevent excessive inflammation without hindering the immune system’s ability to defend the body from true pathogens .
Bromelain is an enzyme found in the stem and core of pineapples (but not the flesh) and is also available as a supplement. Bromelain supplementation has been demonstrated to exert anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activities in multiple contexts. Bromelain has been shown to benefit those with both acute and chronic rhinosinusitis (which involves swelling and pressure in the nasal cavity and sinuses, sometimes with excess mucus production) . Animal studies suggest that bromelain may help desensitize an individual to an allergen and support the alleviation of some asthmatic symptoms .
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are known anti-inflammatories. They can be found in cold water ocean fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel) or can easily be taken as a supplement. Among the long, long list of health benefits omega-3s provide, the current scientific thought is that fish intake during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood may prevent the development of atopic allergies (asthma, hay fever, dermatitis, etc.) . Another study suggests that the effect may extend to adults, as participating women who ate more fish had lower levels of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) .
A large epidemiological study in Greenland recently reported that intake of omega-3s was inversely associated with asthma morbidity . There appears to be a common dysregulation of pro- and anti-inflammatory chemicals in people with severe asthma, which suggests a possible mechanism for the benefits provided by omega-3’s anti-inflammatory activities .
Probiotics are certain species of microorganisms that, when residing in the human gastrointestinal tract, provide a host of benefits to the body in which they live. Benefits range from improved digestion and increased absorption of dietary nutrients, to boosting mood and the health of the immune system. As a part of their relationship to immune health, probiotics may support a healthy response to allergens with reduced inflammation [7-10].
It should be noted that the efficacy of different probiotic species will likely change depending on the allergen. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus supplementation has been associated with reduced perennial allergic rhinitis caused by dust mites and birch pollen [7,8]. Lactobacillus GG has been shown to be effective for those allergic to Japanese cedar pollen, but ineffective against birch pollen [9,10].
The research is mixed on whether local honey helps you head off allergies. The thought is based on science: honeybee-collected pollen has been shown to inhibit IgE-mediated activation of mast cells that secrete histamines . Honey has also been shown in multiple studies to have anti-inflammatory properties . It has been suggested that eating local, unpasteurized honey is somewhat like immuno-therapy; taking an ultra-low dose of the allergen over time, allowing the body to build a tolerance for it. When it comes to research findings, however, they are somewhat contradictory. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try, just make sure it is honey made in the area where your pollen allergy is set off, and that it is unpasteurized, and not commercially processed honey.
- Thornhill, Stacy M., and Ann-Marie Kelly. “Natural treatment of perennial allergic rhinitis.” Alternative Medicine Review 5.5 (2000): 448-454.
- Vollbracht, Claudia, et al. “Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of allergies: an interim subgroup analysis of a long-term observational study.” Journal of International Medical Research 46.9 (2018): 3640-3655.
- Guo, Ruoling, Peter H. Canter, and Edzard Ernst. “Herbal medicines for the treatment of rhinosinusitis: a systematic review.” Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery 135.4 (2006): 496-506.
- Secor, Eric R., et al. “Bromelain inhibits allergic sensitization and murine asthma via modulation of dendritic cells.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 2013 (2013).
- Miyata, Jun, and Makoto Arita. “Role of omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites in asthma and allergic diseases.” Allergology International 64.1 (2015): 27-34.
- Miyake, Yoshihiro, et al. “Fish and fat intake and prevalence of allergic rhinitis in Japanese females: the Osaka Maternal and Child Health Study.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26.3 (2007): 279-287.
- Ishida Y, Nakamura F, Kanzato H, Sawada D, Hirata H, Nishimura A, et al. Clinical effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus strain L-92 on perennial allergic rhinitis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Dairy Sci. 2005;88:527–33.
- Ouwehand, Arthur C et al. “Specific probiotics alleviate allergic rhinitis during the birch pollen season.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 15,26 (2009): 3261-8. doi:10.3748/wjg.15.3261
- Kawase, Manabu et al. “Effect of fermented milk prepared with two probiotic strains on Japanese cedar pollinosis in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study.” International journal of food microbiology vol. 128,3 (2009): 429-34. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2008.09.017
- Helin, Timo, Sauli Haahtela, and Tari Haahtela. “No effect of oral treatment with an intestinal bacterial strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus (ATCC 53103), on birch‐pollen allergy: a placebo‐controlled double‐blind study.” Allergy 57.3 (2002): 243-246.
- Ishikawa, Yasuko, et al. “Inhibitory effect of honeybee-collected pollen on mast cell degranulation in vivo and in vitro.” Journal of medicinal food 11.1 (2008): 14-20.
- Samarghandian, Saeed, Tahereh Farkhondeh, and Fariborz Samini. “Honey and health: A review of recent clinical research.” Pharmacognosy research 9.2 (2017): 121.