Spring has sprung, which means there’s pollen flying around everywhere. If you find yourself sniffing or sneezing, you’re not alone. The arrival of spring brings on allergies for plenty of people.
More than 50 million Americans experience allergies every year. Allergic symptoms are particularly common in the spring because it’s when trees release pollen into the air. When you breathe, bits of pollen can enter your nose, which triggers your immune system to release antibodies that attack the allergen. Histamines are then released into your bloodstream, which leads to allergy symptoms.
Luckily, a healthy diet can ease your allergy symptoms. Ashley Shaw, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Preg Appetit, says that a plant-based or plant-forward diet packed with powerful nutrients will help you find relief with your allergy symptoms. This is key because some of the antioxidants and vitamins in those foods have anti-inflammatory properties, which can act as a natural antihistamine. However, some foods are more powerful than others when helping you combat your spring allergy symptoms.
Here are eight foods that can help you find some relief and comfort this spring.
1. Bee Pollen
Believe it or not, the very thing you may be allergic to could help ease your allergy symptoms. Bee pollen is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, honey, bee secretions and wax. “Research suggests that ingesting bee pollen will help your body build resistance to these potential allergens and therefore, you may experience less allergy symptoms,” Supriya Lal, RD, a registered dietitian says. A 2008 study found that bee pollen inhibited the activation of mast cells in animals, which is linked to preventing allergic reactions.
However, there are limited human studies to suggest that the intake of bee pollen is effective for treating seasonal allergies. While its effects may seem promising, consult your healthcare provider before ingesting any.
Beetroot can work as an antihistamine, reducing some of your allergy symptoms. “This is because they are packed with antioxidants. Specifically, beets are filled with betalains, which help contribute to the rich red color and have been shown to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Kristamarie Collman, MD, a family medicine physician and the founder of Prōse Medical says. A 2015 review found that the betalain pigments in beetroot play an important role in immune cell function, where it strengthens our natural defenses and suppresses foreign invaders.
While it isn’t exactly clear how many servings of beets you should consume to quell your allergy symptoms, consuming this food regularly can be helpful and may offer some relief.
3. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit are packed with vitamin C, an essential vitamin for your immune system. You might not expect your spring allergies to be linked to your immune system, but the two are connected. “Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that supports the production and functioning of white blood cells, which may help to reduce the severity of allergic symptoms,” Dr. Collman says.
A small 2013 study found that individuals with allergies or infectious diseases who took 7.5 grams of vitamin C experienced a 50 percent decline in histamine concentration. Histamines can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, wheezing and shortness of breath, so this study suggests that vitamin C may act as a natural antihistamine. The recommended daily dose of vitamin C varies, but it’s usually no more than 100 milligrams, or 0.1 grams.
Talk to your healthcare provider before taking a high dose of vitamin C.
This flavorful ingredient can give you some relief this allergy season. “Garlic is rich in chemical compounds like allicin and quercetin that may thin mucus and improve flow in the nasal passages,” Shaw says.
A 2020 review suggests that quercetin, a plant compound, has anti-inflammatory properties and no significant side effects. Studies have shown it to reduce airway hyper-reactivity, slow down mucus production and decrease the risk of bronchitis. Quercetin, as a result, may be an effective treatment for individuals to manage their allergy symptoms, the researchers of the review note.
Ginger has a history of being used as medicine – and today, it’s a great choice for allergy season. It’s loaded with anti-inflammatory benefits and contains a wealth of bioactive compounds. A 2020 study compared the effectiveness of ginger extract and loratadine, a popular medicine for allergies, in patients with allergic rhinitis. Researchers found that the ginger extract was just as good as loratadine in improving nasal symptoms and overall quality of life.
While research in the field shows that consuming ginger may be promising for those experiencing allergy symptoms, be careful when taking it with other medicines. Ginger can cause side effects when taken with medicines such as coumadin and aspirin, so speak to your healthcare provider to find out if ginger is safe for you.
This pungent vegetable may be as beneficial as garlic in opening up and draining your nasal passages. “Onions are high in quercetin, which has some anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects,” Lal says.
A 2013 study investigated the effects of quercetin on the airways of mice. The results showed that quercetin was effective in relaxing the airway and lung muscles. Although this study shows that quercetin may help alleviate spring allergies and symptoms such as shortness of breath, more research is needed to determine how much is best.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation triggered by an allergic reaction, Shaw says. A 2017 review examined the effects of eating nutritious, whole foods on symptoms like wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. The review found that just eating two to four servings of tomatoes a day reduced asthmatic symptoms. It also strengthened the immune system.
Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that can counteract histamine and decrease inflammation in your body. However, your body absorbs lycopene better through cooked foods. You’ll want to make sure to emphasize cooked tomatoes over raw tomatoes.
A long-used anti-inflammatory spice, turmeric can have a positive effect on spring allergies. “Specifically, curcumin, an ingredient in turmeric, interrupts the inflammatory cascade that promotes chronic disease and decreases oxidative stress on cells and organ systems,” Lal says. A 2016 study found that curcumin significantly decreased nasal symptoms on patients with perennial allergic rhinitis, a chronic allergic condition that is present year round.
Even though curcumin acts as a natural decongestant, be sure to watch your intake. Large amounts of turmeric can cause adverse side effects. There are about 200 milligrams of curcumin in one teaspoon of fresh or ground turmeric. However, it’s recommended that you take about 500 to 1,000 milligrams to experience the anti-inflammatory effects.
To find even more relief for your springtime sniffles, keep reading: