If you’re anything like me, you have started feeling the effects of spring – the sneezing, itchy eyes, drippy nose, and sinus pressure all too familiar to those of us who suffer from allergies. Today’s topic is how to strengthen your system, so allergies are not as big of a deal. (I’ll be heeding my own advice from this post as well.) The areas I will be discussing are: Diet, Supplements, Acupuncture, and Lifestyle Modifications. This blog will be about Diet.
But first, a quick lesson in how allergies work. An allergic reaction occurs when our immune systems make a mistake and react toward something that is not otherwise harmful – like pollen, for example. Your B-cells (which are white blood cells) are responsible for creating antibodies to threats. This is great when we need to fight an infection. But sometimes the B-cells are not able to tell that the allergen in question is not invading the body, so it launches an attack. The B-cells cause a huge release of IgE antibodies which attach themselves to basophils and mast cells. Mast cells and basophils both contain histamine, a word any allergy sufferer is all too familiar with. Histamine is wonderful – when released in the right amounts for an appropriate attack (like the aforementioned infection). Histamine is not great when it is released in huge amounts against pollen or grass!
In the example above, the person becomes “sensitized” to an allergen. The IgE/mast cell combo are primed and ready to go, so the next time the person is exposed to the allergen, the histamines inside are released, leading to an allergic reaction.
So what’s a person to do if they are sensitive to particular allergens? Here we go :
Certain foods create histamine reactions in the body or contain histamines. Here is the list:
* Histamine-containing foods:
Alcohol, anchovies, avocados, cheeses (especially if aged), dried fruits, eggplant, fermented food, mackerel, mushrooms, smoked fish & meats, processed meats, sour cream & yogurt, breads/treats with a lot of yeast, spinach, tomatoes, and foods with vinegar.
* Histamine-releasing foods:
Alcohol, bananas, chocolate, eggs, fish, milk, papayas, pineapple, strawberries, tomatoes.
Avoidance of these foods will help reduce the body’s histamine levels. I understand that complete avoidance may not be possible – this is fine. Chinese Medicine is all about moderation. But I think it is helpful to at least be informed that eating certain foods may exacerbate allergies.
Other Foods to Avoid:
* Mucus-producing foods:
Many people’s allergies manifest as a runny nose. Eating foods that produce mucus will worsen this condition. Also, in Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is responsible for digestion and also for much of our immunity. The Lung is our first defense against foreign invaders. Both of these organs are very much affected by phlegmy foods.
Everyone knows that dairy is a huge phlegm-producer. Also high on the list are: meat, tofu, eggs, pineapple, salt, and sugars. In fact, a study published in 2008 found that sugar consumption increases susceptibility to allergic airway inflammation. Sugar has also been shown to have a detrimental effect on immune system function – even in small amounts!
Did you know that raw vegetables and fruits can contribute to phlegm? , Many of my patients are surprised to hear that these foods may not be good for them. Think of the process of digestion like a fire under a pot – if you put cold foods in the pot, the fire has to work extra hard to heat them up. If your digestive system is less than optimal, these cold foods can hinder the Spleen’s digestive capabilities, leading to dampness/phlegm/mucus. Try lightly steaming, roasting, or sauteing your veggies!
* Common Food Allergens:
Many people these days have food allergies – be they diagnosed or undiagnosed. There are 8 foods that account for 90% of food allergies:
Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, and wheat. People’s reactions to food allergies vary. Some people have anaphylactic reactions, which can be deadly. Others have gastrointestinal reactions – wheat and soy being 2 common ones for this type of reaction. But many people also react in the same way they would to an environmental allergen. I feel that this type of reaction is often overlooked. Yet I can say from personal experience that foods can definitely trigger sneezing and congestion – wheat gluten does it for me.
If you suspect that one of these foods may be the culprit that’s making you feel lousy, avoid it for a couple of weeks. Pay attention to how you feel. Are you less congested? Is your brain less foggy? Is your digestion better? Do you just feel better in general? If so, that food was probably an allergen. Do you have to avoid it forever? No, but it does help to be aware that if you eat a certain food, you know that you will pay for it. It helps to know what to expect.
And that brings our discussion of diet & allergies to a close. Stay tuned for Part II and in the mean time, be well!