Spring is finally here but that means seasonal allergies are here too. Relentless sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose, sound familiar?
While no food is a proven cure, certain nutrients could potentially prevent seasonal allergies. So Starts at 60 chatted with nutritionist and naturopath Nicola Miethke, from Nuzest, to find out how to kick allergies to the curb this season.
“Even if you have never suffered from allergies in your life before, it doesn’t mean that you are resistant to them, so making sure that you consume the right foods during this season can help support your immune system from coming under attack,” Miethke explains.
Eating more fibre can deliver an array of health benefits. “Fibre isn’t only great for regulating our bowels, but it also helps feed the good bacteria in our gut, which can in turn strengthen our immunity,” she says.
When we eat foods such as sweet potato, legumes, oats, barley or citrus fruit, Miethke says we’re consuming fermentable fibre “which increases the quantity and quality of our good gut bacteria”.
The fermentation process creates short chain fatty acids, she explains, adding: “Which act as regulators for our immune system and can dampen the immune response when we come in contact with allergens.”
“Focusing on gut friendly foods is key when it comes to strengthening the immune system,” she says.
So what’s the difference? Probiotic foods help to improve the quality and quantity of our gut bacteria, while prebiotic foods act like a fertiliser for the good bacteria.
“The better our gut bacteria, the less likely we are to develop gastric hyper-permeability or ‘leaky gut’ which weakens the immune system and in turn can make us more susceptible to allergic reactions.”
Probiotic foods include fermented dairy products, vegetables and soy, while prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, whole grains and legumes.
“When we become exposed to an allergen, our immune system’s natural response is to release histamine which leads to our classic allergy symptoms,” Miethke explains.
However, increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, leafy greens and vegetables can help to reduce the overall inflammatory response. Studies suggest that a diet low in antioxidant-rich foods can increase the risk of allergic reactions.
“Now that it’s getting warmer, exposing our skin to the sun can help increase our vitamin D levels which subsequently helps to modulate our immune system and reduce inflammation,” she says.
Vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone, usually absorbed from exposure to the sun, along with certain foods. It has a host of health benefits because of its ability to influence genetic expression.
“It can be difficult to get the required amount of Vitamin D from our food, so ensuring you get daily sun exposure for a short period of time is very important.”
Turns out raw honey might help your allergies. How? Despite its pollen content, exposing yourself to a small amount of an allergen can help your body develop a tolerance to it.
“But not any old honey will do, it should ideally be unprocessed, raw and from as nearby to where you live as possible,” Miethke says.