Runny noses, itchy red eyes and constant sneezing are not great symptoms to be dealing with. We spend winter longing for the sunand warmer months to return, but with that comes allergies and hay fever for many of us.
Your only remedies right now might be anti-histamine tablets, nasal sprays or basically not leaving the house unless absolutely necessary, but did you know that certain foods can actually reduce your allergy symptoms and improve your body’s resilience to the environment?
Our immune system, which is responsible for allergies and inflammation, is mainly located in our gut! The trillions of bacteria living inside our intestines help us to absorb food, create nutrients and protect us from ‘invaders’. When our gut bacteria get out of whack, whether that is due to stress, antibiotic use or too much sugar, we are more likely to develop conditions such as allergies, hay fever, sinusitis, rashes, eczema and frequent infections. This happens when certain immune cells known as mast cells, release chemicals such as histamine, in response to injury and in allergic and inflammatory reactions.
We also need certain nutrients for our immune system to functional optimally, including vitamin A, D, C, E, selenium and zinc. You can get these nutrients by consuming a wide variety of plant foods, including the ones I share below, which are foods that also have proven anti-histamine properties!
1. Aloe vera
You may have used aloe vera topically in order to soothe burns and itchy rashes, but the inner flesh and juice can be taken internally, in order to have a similar effect on the inside! Redness, swelling, itchiness and heat are all signs of inflammation and aloe vera has a strong anti-inflammatory effect, due to its cooling and soothing properties. As I mentioned earlier, an imbalanced gut can cause our immune system to go awry and aloe vera is known to be very beneficial in improving digestive symptoms such as constipation, reflux, heartburn and stomach ulcers. Certain enzymes found in aloe can also help us to break down our food more efficiently; increasing our absorption of the nutrients needed for proper immune function. (1)
Try taking Aloe Vera juice or powder mixed with water first thing in the morning, before breakfast, to help nourish the digestive system and support the immune system for the day ahead.
Quercetin, found in the apple’s skin, is a potent anti-oxidant which helps to reduce the release of histamine and can inhibit the development of allergies. Anti-oxidants work by scavenging free radicals in the body and repairing cellular damage. The apple skin, which is the most nutritious part, also contains polyphenols, which help to lower inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the driver behind all chronic diseases, not just allergies, so we need to increase our intake of anti-inflammatory, nutrient rich foods, to protect our body. Apples are also a good source of Vitamin C which is needed for immune function and decreasing histamine levels in the blood. (2)
Try consuming a small apple with a handful of nuts or seeds for a quick, nutritious snack at work.
Nettle leaves contain biologically active compounds that help to reduce inflammation. They can also block histamine receptors, which is how common anti-histamine medications work, but without the risk of negative side effects. Other than being used for allergies, nettle is commonly used for inflammation and water retention as it has mild diuretic properties. The leaves of the plant (which can cause unpleasant stings) actually contain histamine, which may seem counterproductive in allergy treatment, however once processed or made into a tea, it has the opposite effect. (3)
Try a mug of nettle tea or homemade nettle soup every day and notice if your allergy symptoms improve!
4. Red onions
Although the white and yellow varieties do contain anti-histamine properties, red onions contain much higher levels, along with an extra boost of antioxidants. They are also rich in the anti-histamine compound, quercetin, which helps to stabilize mast cells, and lower histamine levels in the blood. Onions are one of the most polyphenol-packed foods you can eat. One study found that red onions have the highest concentration of flavonoids in their outer layers, so make sure you only peel the very outer skin! (4)
Roast up some red onions and add to your evening meals or add diced raw onion to salads.
5. Reishi mushroom
This type of medicinal mushroom supports the immune system by decreasing the over-reactivity and hyper-sensitivity, which drives the release of histamine and symptoms such as hives, rhinitis and wheezing. Reishi also has powerful anti-histamine benefits due to steroid-like, anti-inflammatory compounds known as triterpenes, which inhibit inflammation and histamine. This mushroom has adaptogenic properties, meaning that it can either up or down regulate our body conditions in order to achieve homeostasis. Adaptogens can also make our bodies more resilient to stressors, whether that be dietary (food intolerances), environmental (pollen) or psychological (financial worry). (5)
Try adding reishi powder to soups or smoothies for a powerful immune boost!
Also known as Holy basil, Tulsi helps to prevent the release of histamine from mast cells, thus helping to treat allergic disorders. This herb is used commonly in Ayurvedic Medicine and in Hindu religions Tulsi is considered to be sacred and is very highly regarded. Tulsi is an important part of many Ayurvedic cough syrups as it acts as an expectorant, helping to mobilize mucous in bronchitis and asthma- great if you suffer with a tickly cough or mucus during the spring time. Certain chemicals in Holy Basil are thought to decrease pain and swelling, other common symptoms of inflammation. Stress can impact our gut health and immune function and Tulsi can help to combat this due to its adaptogenic properties. (6)
Try Tulsi as a herbal tea (along with nettle), or a tincture for daily stress support and anti-histamine properties.
So give it a try! If you or someone you know deals with seasonal allergies, start increasing your intake of these foods and monitor your symptoms. Reducing your intake of dairy products, refined sugars and managing stress levels may provide additional support, as these things can exacerbate inflammation and the release of histamine by immune cells.