Does diet influence seasonal allergies?

February 20, 2018 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

The best medicine for seasonal allergies may not be medicine. Instead, healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle go a long way in lessening symptoms.   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.1

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 naturally.

The daily activities and quality of life of about 7.5 percent of adults and 9 percent of children in the U.S, are impaired by the sneezing, coughing and red, itchy eyes that are symptomatic of allergies.2

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 pollen, an immune attack ensues, leading to inflammation and cold-like symptoms.

Risk Factors For Allergy Development in Children:

  • A family history of allergies is the strongest risk factor.3
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke during early childhood.4
  • Childhood acetaminophen use.5
  • The relatively low intake of omega-3 fatty acids in developed countries.6, 7

Unfortunately, allergic conditions are 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.3, 8, 9

Avoiding Allergies and Reducing Symptoms

The factors that affect development of allergies in children may also be relevant to allergy symptoms in adults.

  • Higher intake of antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, is associated with reduced seasonal allergies in children.10,11 Similarly, high blood levels of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, are associated with a lower likelihood of seasonal allergies in adults.12 These nutrients should come from a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, not from beta carotene supplements.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are one widely studied dietary factor associated with the development of allergies. Higher omega-3 intake (primarily ALA and EPA) and blood omega-3 levels have been associated with reduced risk of seasonal allergies in adults.13,14 Several studies have suggested that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy likely reduces the risk of allergic conditions in the child.6,7  ALA is found in walnuts and flax, chia, and hemp seeds. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are commonly found in fish, but due to mercury and pollutants commonly found in fish, an algae-derived omega-3 supplement is a cleaner option.
  • Adults deficient in Vitamin D  are more likely to have allergies than those with sufficient vitamin D levels.15 Getting adequate vitamin D during pregnancy may be protective against the development of allergies in children.16 The safest way of getting adequate vitamin D is via supplementation with  D3.
  • Breast feeding and a healthful early childhood diet are protective factors.17 Intake of fruit, vegetables, and nuts in children has been associated with reduced asthma and allergy symptoms.18

Currently, there has not been much data published on the effects of diet on symptoms of seasonal allergies.  However, in my medical practice I have observed 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 achieved complete relief from allergies. Adding certain supplemental phytochemicals, such as rosmarinic acid and luteolin from the Perilla frutescens seed, to a healthful diet may provide additional help for the nose and eye irritation characteristic of seasonal allergies.19-21

I wish you an allergy-free season!


  1. 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.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats: Allergies and Hay Fever. []

  3. Wang DY. Risk factors of allergic rhinitis: genetic or environmental? Ther Clin Risk Manag 2005, 1:115-123.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Anandan C, Sheikh A. Preventing development of allergic disorders in children. BMJ 2006, 333:485.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Seo JH, Kwon SO, Lee SY, et al. Association of antioxidants with allergic rhinitis in children from seoul. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res 2013, 5:81-87.

  11. Rosenlund H, Magnusson J, Kull I, et al. Antioxidant intake and allergic disease in children. Clin Exp Allergy 2012, 42:1491-1500.

  12. Kompauer I, Heinrich J, Wolfram G, Linseisen J. Association of carotenoids, tocopherols and vitamin C in plasma with allergic rhinitis and allergic sensitisation in adults. Public Health Nutr 2006, 9:472-479.

  13. Nagel G, Nieters A, Becker N, Linseisen J. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Kneepkens CM, Brand PL. Clinical practice: Breastfeeding and the prevention of allergy. Eur J Pediatr 2010, 169:911-917.

  18. 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.

  19. Takano H, Osakabe N, Sanbongi C, et al. Extract of Perilla frutescens enriched for rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic phytochemical, inhibits seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis in humans. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2004, 229:247-254.

  20. Ueda H, Yamazaki C, Yamazaki M. Luteolin as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic constituent of Perilla frutescens. Biol Pharm Bull 2002, 25:1197-1202.

  21. Yamamoto H, Sakakibara J, Nagatsu A, Sekiya K. Inhibitors of Arachidonate Lipoxygenase from Defatted Perilla Seed. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 1998, 46:862-865.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.