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 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.
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.
Turmeric and ginger are known anti-inflammatory agents.
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.
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.
Return to the Allergy Relief Learning Center