by: Cybele Pascal
Sneezing, sniffling, swollen, itchy eyes got you down this month? If so, you're far from alone. Mid-August marks the beginning of ragweed season, which lasts through October and causes a whopping 36 million Americans to suffer the symptoms of "hay fever" or allergic rhinitis.
With seasonal allergies (not to mention mold!) in full swing, we've got a total of 50 million people suffering some kind of torment, four of them in my very own household. I've focused on foods to include in your diet that can help reduce allergies. Food allergy sufferers, take note: I have not forsaken you! As seasonal allergies are said to exacerbate existing food allergies, this information should be helpful to you as well.
Both of my sons are in hyper-allergic mode this summer, both to foods and to pollen. Consequently, there's been a lot of unnatural drugging going on — of the Claritin, Alavert, Benadryl type. I'm not alone in this. According to National Geographic's revelatory article on allergies (May, 2006), Americans spend billions of dollars annually on antihistamines to treat symptoms of allergies. The problem with these over-the-counter antihistamines — aside from their obvious side effects of drowsiness, cloudy thinking, dry mouth and, for some, accelerated heart rate — is that they don't stop the problem from happening in the first place, they just mask the symptoms for several hours. But I need more than just a few hours' reprieve and, as a desperate parent sick of doping my children, I have turned to a natural alternative for help: foods that fight allergies. What a novel concept: eating your antihistamines.
So what are these super foods? Well, lucky for you, most of them are available in abundance at your local green market or grocer. For a change, East meets West on this topic, with both traditional western medicine and alternative health practitioners agreeing that nature's top edible antihistamines are found in foods containing vitamin C and quercetin (a powerful flavonoid, sometimes called bioflavonoid). Additionally, there is much evidence that eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids reduces allergy symptoms.
Vitamin C is one of nature's great wonders. In addition to being a natural antihistamine, this water-soluble vitamin has a multitude of other functions in the body. From being a powerful antioxidant fighting free radicals to its role in the synthesis of collagen, it's the vitamin we truly can't live without. Foods rich in vitamin C should be eaten as soon as possible when fresh, as they lose their strength after being exposed to air, or being processed, boiled, or stored for long periods of time. Good food sources of vitamin C are guavas, blackcurrants, red bell peppers, kale, parsley, green sweet peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, mango, watercress, cauliflower, red cabbage, strawberries, papayas, green and white cabbage, spinach, citrus fruits, elderberries, calf liver, turnips, peaches, asparagus, cantaloupe, cayenne pepper, green onions, new lima beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, radishes, raspberries, yellow summer squash, sweet potatoes, loganberries, tomatoes, new potatoes, lettuce, bananas, kiwi, honeydew, pineapple, cranberry juice, vegetable juice, tomato juice, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. That's a whole lot of options to keep you eating your C!
Flavonoids, such as quercetin, are a group of plant pigments that are largely responsible for the colors of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Quercetin is a natural antihistamine that helps stabilize mast cells to prevent both the manufacture and release of histamine, as well as other allergic and inflammatory compounds. Good sources of quercetin are citrus fruits, onions, garlic, apples, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, legumes, berries, and wine (no bummer there!).
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to reduce allergic reactions through their anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in such foods as cold-water fish (think salmon) and walnuts. I also recommend you get your Omega-3s from flaxseed oil, canola oil, and grass-fed meat.
Many articles advise you to start loading up on your natural antihistamines six weeks prior to peak allergy season, but since many of us don't know exactly what pollen or mold spores we're allergic to, I advise trying to eat as much of these foods as possible, all year round. Eating a diet rich in natural antihistamines can help prevent the allergic reactions from happening in the first place, thus reducing the need for the drugs, and making us all a little healthier and happier, not to mention less congested!