With pollen counts pumping up sooner than expected this year, many allergy sufferers will reach for eye drops, allergy shots and other medications for relief. But what about a plate of poached salmon, a kale salad or a crisp red pepper?
Allergy-fighting antihistamines come in pill and liquid forms, but they appear naturally vitamin C-packed vegetables. Those, as well as fish rich in Omega-3s, make up an anti-inflammatory diet that can help beat back allergy symptoms, said Emily Telfair, a naturopathic doctor in Baltimore.
Think of antihistamine medications "like the bandaid," she said, necessary for many just to get through the day. A few simple changes, though, may prevent your body from needing them in the first place.
"And food’s a good way to start," she said.
Here are food choices that can help alleviate allergies, and some you might want to avoid.
Onions, cabbage and apples
These all contain quercetin, a compound that gives some fruits and vegetables a reddish hue. Quercetin also stabilizes mast cells, Telfair said, those cells that pump out histamines as your body reacts to an allergen. Consuming it regularly, in food or supplement form, lends the body inflammation-calming nutrients. And don't get too hung up on the color, she said, as these foods need not be red to contain quercetin.
(Red wine contains quercetin too, but Telfair doesn't recommend it. More on that below.)
Bell peppers, Brussels sprouts and broccoli
Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine, making these vegetables your friend. And all three contain more vitamin C than oranges. That's good news, Telfair said, as citrus fruits can upset histamine pathways. Other good options include cauliflower, cabbage and kale. And don't double up on orange juice, she said; it just makes your mucus worse.
Salmon, sardines and mackerel
These fatty fish can beat back allergen-induced inflammation through omega-3 fatty acids. The fats incorporate into cell membranes in the body's tissues, stabilizing them, Telfair said. When an allergen arises, those cells are then more likely to help reduce inflammation, she explained.
Nettles, another natural antihistamine, grow like weeds in the springtime, Telfair said, just as allergies return. The prickly plants can go into soups, pesto, and pasta dishes and also stabilize mast cells. Many health food stores carry them, said Telfair, who favors a nice cup of nettles tea: "It tastes like dirt, but it’s very effective.”
Avoid: Dairy, bread and booze
All of these increase inflammation, Telfair said, not helping allergies a bit. Limit yourself to whole grains and avoid dairy, which triggers mucus already rampant with allergies. And quercetin be damned, cut back on that wine red wine, Telair said, which can aggravate histamine pathways. Alcohol in general can add undue stress to your body if it's already dealing with allergens floating in the air.
“You can’t control that, but you can control how many beers you drink."