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Does Diet Influence Seasonal Allergies?

AllergiesThe sneezing, coughing and red, itchy eyes characteristic of seasonal allergies impair the day-to-day activities and quality of life of many people in the U.S., about 7.5% of adults and 9% of children.1 Pollens from grass, trees, and weeds are the primary culprits; the immune system inappropriately recognizes these airborne substances as harmful invaders and produces antibodies. Each time one comes into contact with the same pollen, an immune attack ensues, leading to inflammation and cold-like symptoms.

The prevalence of allergic conditions is increasing, and there are several theories for why this is occurring. One theory is the hygiene hypothesis, the idea that having less exposure to pathogens and bacteria early in life increases our susceptibility to allergic conditions. According to this theory, early viral and bacterial exposure activates an immune response that aids the developing immune system, making later-life allergies less likely. Supporting this hypothesis, having pets, a greater number of siblings and a greater number of early viral infections are associated with decreased risk of allergies.2-4 Other theories focus on effects of our modern Western diet. A study of 56 different countries found that populations with higher rates of tobacco use, trans fat intake, and acetaminophen use had higher rates of allergies and asthma; however, populations with higher intake of plant-based foods had lower rates of allergies and asthma.5

Whether someone develops seasonal allergies or other allergic conditions depends on a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A family history of allergies is the strongest risk factor.2 Exposure to cigarette smoke during early childhood is another important risk factor.6 Some studies have reported that childhood acetaminophen use is linked to greater risk of allergies.7 In contrast, breast feeding and a healthful early childhood diet are protective factors.8 Intake of fruit, vegetables, and nuts in children has been associated with reduced asthma and allergy symptoms.9 Getting adequate vitamin D during pregnancy may also be protective against the development of allergies in children.10

Omega-3 fatty acids are one widely studied dietary factor associated with the development of allergies. The relatively low intake of omega-3 fatty acids in developed countries is also a potential reason for increasing allergy prevalence. Several studies have suggested that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy likely reduces the risk of allergic conditions in the child.11,12

If you already have seasonal allergies, can a healthful diet reduce symptoms?
The factors that affect development of allergies in children may also be relevant to allergy symptoms in adults. Higher omega-3 intake and blood omega-3 levels have been associated with reduced risk of seasonal allergies in adults.13,14 Also, vitamin D deficient adults are more likely to report having allergies than those with sufficient vitamin D levels.15

There has not been much data published on the effects of diet on symptoms of seasonal allergies yet, however I have observed in my medical practice that the change to a high-nutrient diet is accompanied by a wide variety of benefits, including an improvement in allergy symptoms. I have seen many allergic patients slowly reduce the severity of their allergies and over time many became entirely non-allergic.

When you follow a high-nutrient diet, you are creating an environment in your body that promotes proper immune function and regulation of the inflammatory response, which may help to blunt allergy symptoms.

References:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats: Allergies and Hay Fever. [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/allergies.htm]
2. Wang DY: Risk factors of allergic rhinitis: genetic or environmental? Ther Clin Risk Manag 2005, 1:115-123.<
3. Matheson MC, Walters EH, Simpson JA, et al: Relevance of the hygiene hypothesis to early vs. late onset allergic rhinitis. Clin Exp Allergy 2009, 39:370-378.
4. Anyo G, Brunekreef B, de Meer G, et al: Early, current and past pet ownership: associations with sensitization, bronchial responsiveness and allergic symptoms in school children. Clin Exp Allergy 2002, 32:361-366.
5. Asher MI, Stewart AW, Mallol J, et al: Which population level environmental factors are associated with asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Review of the ecological analyses of ISAAC Phase One. Respir Res 2010, 11:8.
6. Nolte H, Backer V, Porsbjerg C: Environmental factors as a cause for the increase in allergic disease. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2001, 87:7-11.
7. Vlaski E, Stavric K, Isjanovska R, et al: Acetaminophen intake and risk of asthma, hay fever and eczema in early adolescence. Iran J Allergy Asthma Immunol 2007, 6:143-149.
8. Kneepkens CM, Brand PL: Clinical practice: Breastfeeding and the prevention of allergy. Eur J Pediatr 2010, 169:911-917.
9. Chatzi L, Apostolaki G, Bibakis I, et al: Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete. Thorax 2007, 62:677-683.
10. Erkkola M, Kaila M, Nwaru BI, et al: Maternal vitamin D intake during pregnancy is inversely associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis in 5-year-old children. Clin Exp Allergy 2009, 39:875-882.
11. Anandan C, Sheikh A: Preventing development of allergic disorders in children. BMJ 2006, 333:485.
12. Kremmyda LS, Vlachava M, Noakes PS, et al: Atopy risk in infants and children in relation to early exposure to fish, oily fish, or long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: a systematic review. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2011, 41:36-66.
13. Nagel G, Nieters A, Becker N, et al: The influence of the dietary intake of fatty acids and antioxidants on hay fever in adults. Allergy 2003, 58:1277-1284.
14. Hoff S, Seiler H, Heinrich J, et al: Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. Eur J Clin Nutr 2005, 59:1071-1080.
15. Frieri M, Valluri A: Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for allergic disorders and immune mechanisms. Allergy Asthma Proc 2011, 32:438-444.

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