Foods That Aggravate Allergies & Foods That Fight Allergies


Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, writes a weekly column for the Vancouver Sun. A reader with severe allergies recently asked Dr. Weil for advice on how to treat allergies. Instead of medication or immunotherapy, Dr. Weil first suggests two important dietary changes, as well as environmental control.

Foods That Aggravate Allergies

"The first [recommendation] is the elimination of dairy products," says Dr. Weil. "Milk protein, or casein, increases mucus production in most people and acts as an immune system irritant when allergies are present. Even if skin tests don't show a true allergy to milk, removing it from the diet often leads to improvement in such allergic conditions as asthma and eczema.

"Don't just switch to nonfat milk products, which have the same amount of milk protein as full-fat varieties. Nondairy cheese substitutes made from soybeans and almonds may still contain casein. Read product labels carefully to be sure that they do not contain casein. However, you can substitute sheep's and goat's milk for cow's milk. Both have a different protein composition and don't cause the sinus, allergy and immune-system problems associated with cow's milk."

Dr. Weil's second dietary recommendation for allergy relief is to cut down on the amount of protein consumed: "I believe that high-protein diets irritate the immune system in some people, aggravating allergies and autoimmune diseases. Because proteins are the components that make an organism unique, the immune system reads them to decide whether materials in the body are 'self' or foreign. When the immune system is overactive, as it is with an allergy, flooding the body with animal and plant proteins may confuse it further and may make resolution of these conditions less likely. I have found that low-protein diets can be helpful to people with chronic allergies and other immune-system problems."

As for environmental control, Dr. Weil says, "If you're sensitive to dust, animal dander, pollen or mould, try to dust-proof your house by removing rugs, venetian blinds and other dust-catchers. You also could consider buying a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, which removes particles in the air by forcing it through screens containing microscopic pores. These devices work well and aren't too expensive. Get one for each of the main rooms in your house, or move one unit from room to room regularly. Avoid air-filtering equipment that generates ozone (HEPA filters don't)."

Foods That Fight Allergies

While some foods may aggravate allergies, other foods can help fight allergies. According to Prevention, a nutritious diet can help control underlying inflammation, dilate air passages, and thin mucus in the lungs.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 essential fatty acids contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, salmon, haddock, cod, and other cold-water fish. Another essential acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), also acts as an anti-inflammatory, and it can be found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil. If possible, include more of both of these fatty acids in your diet.

On the flip side, too much Omega-6 fatty acid may intensify inflammation. Most people in our society need more Omega-3 fatty acids and less Omega-6 fatty acids. Foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids include cottonseed, corn, and sunflower oils, as well as processed foods like mayonnaise, salad dressing, and fast food. Saturated fats and trans fats also trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals. Avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oil. Try to use monosaturated olive oil as your primary source of fat.

Fruit Juices

Fruit juices are rich sources of antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, but read the label to make sure that it's real juice and not a bottle of corn syrup. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables to get more antioxidants in your diet. Berries have especially high levels of antioxidants.

High-Fiber Foods

A high-fiber diet makes for a healthy colon. A low-fiber diet produces a lazy colon that's more susceptible to disease. High-fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, and seeds stimulate movement in the colon and encourage the growth of "good" bacteria. In an unhealthy colon, "bad" bacteria and fungal organisms like candida may take over, which could lead to leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome often leads to food allergies and chemical sensitivities.

Yogurt & Kefir

Another way to increase the number of good bacteria in your gut is to eat them directly. Yogurt and kefir contain live bacterial cultures. In one University of California study, allergic symptoms declined by 90 percent when patients were fed 18 to 24 ounces of yogurt a day. If you're trying to avoid dairy products, opt for a probiotic supplement.

Spices

Turmeric and ginger are known anti-inflammatory agents.

Magnesium

Some studies have shown that people who have asthma are deficient in magnesium. Foods rich in magnesium include spinash, navy and pinto beans, sunflower seeds, tofu, halibut, artichokes, and black-eyed peas.

Zinc

Other studies have shown that people with asthma are deficient in zinc. Foods rich in zinc include yogurt, tofu, lean beef and ham, oysters, crab, and the dark meat of turkey and chicken.

The Mediterranean Diet

A recent study showed that children who ate high levels of Mediterranean diet foods were 66 percent less likely to have runny noses and itchy eyes. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish, but low in red meat. Children on the Mediterranean island of Crete rarely have allergies or asthma.

Grapes in particular seem to protect against allergies and asthma. Red grape skin has high levels of resveratol, which reduces inflammation, as well as antioxidants. High consumption of margarine, on the other hand, doubled the chances of asthma and allergies in study participants.

Another recent study showed that mothers who eat apples during pregnancy have a significantly reduced risk of their children developing asthma, and mothers who eat fish during pregnancy have children with lower incidents of eczema.


Originally featured in the June 2007 issue of Allergy Consumer Report.

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